The fascinating acrylic-onwood paintings of Caitlin Buck, a Boulder native who graduated from Naropa University in 2012, will see their three-month appearance on the walls of the Laughing Goat Coffeehouse end this month. Buck, 28, lately focuses on realistically rendering human faces while simultaneously striving for the creative, poignant and playful. The animated, curly-haired young artist — wearing her trademark nose ring and a white t-shirt with a screen-printed deer — sat down on The Laughing Goat’s front porch recently for a conversation with Boulder Weekly.
Boulder Weekly: I remember seeing some of your acrylic portraits in the student lounge at Naropa when I was there for an event years ago. How has your work changed since graduating?
Buck: It’s always sort of been acrylic, the paintings anyway. Those portraits of Naropa students were the result of an independent study I did with Robert Spellman, who is amazing. He’s an old coyote of Naropa; he teaches The Contemplative Artist. He’s a huge influence; I hear his voice in my head just about every day, and I’m grateful for it. That independent study, we set out to loosen up my work, so I called it “Portraits In Space.” I was working on realistically portraying people I knew and still letting [the paintings] be spacious and ethereal and not outlined.
Meeting someone who was born and raised in Boulder seems pretty rare.
It was good that I lived for a couple years in South Carolina when I graduated from high school, just to step outside the bubble. Once I felt really secure in my passion for art and desire to study art, Naropa was the best thing that ever happened to me. The more I looked into Naropa, it was unreal; it was like, “This is unreal. This is like Hogwarts.”
How did you transition from the student portraits I saw in 2011 to these paintings on wood?
For a while I was painting portraits on patterned fabric, floral patterns. I really like painting on a surface that already has something going on, that already has a vibrational feel to it. It’s like it gives me room to surrender a little bit, because I have faith that the things already happening on the surface have something to say, something to offer. So when I started painting on wood, I was getting sort of tired of the fabric, those patterns. They already have colors and the wood is more neutral, yet it has something amazing going on. Sometimes I’ll even have a hard time painting on the wood, because I’ll look at it and say, “It’s already so beautiful. How can I do anything to this?” But eventually we work it out, the wood and I, and I end up being very minimal.
Where did such a distinct face come from, the face in most of these paintings?
I heard [a Laughing Goat customer] say, “So is that what the artist looks like?” That’s a reasonable question. I was shifting from the fabric to the wood and there was a lot going on in me, a lot changing. I started working on the wood and letting that dance of receiving and telling happen, letting the accidents happen, letting these faces emerge on the wood. The first few just had these big noses. It was a remedy for that feeling I had that everything being perfect was not something I want to represent.
When you finished school at Naropa, what were your aspirations?
Painting, as a practice, will always be there. I’ll never stop. It’s a deep biological necessity. How that’s gonna grow into a form of service, I’m still figuring out, but I know I want to teach. I want to teach contemplative art, and I know that’s a rare topic to study. I’ve tried to find anywhere else in the world [besides Naropa] that even uses those terms and I can’t. It’s looking at art as this practice between receiving and telling. It involves showing up, making a move and listening and responding. That is similar to life itself, so I feel like the practice of painting is therapy. It’s deeply fulfilling, but it also teaches one how to be human. I would love to be able to share that.
Who has influenced you other than your Naropa teachers?
Visionary art has affected me a lot. It really was my first teacher. When I went to Naropa some of the teachers were tired of so many art students coming in, like, “Oh my God, Alex Grey!” They’re really tactful about it, but they’d say, “Yes, and look at this other weird art.” It took me to the other side so I could draw from different sides of the spectrum. I’ve started to become more into art that is the human face, the human form realistic and also surreal. I want it to be real enough that it is lifelike and there is a creature and an entity looking back at you, yet maybe also it’s dreamlike. Most of them are making eye contact with the viewer.
You can’t hide from them.
Yeah, and sometimes I owe them things. Sometimes they’re really disappointed in me. Sometimes they’re so in love with me and we’re best friends. One seriously tormented me, like, “What are you going to do with me? You brought me into existence; what now?” It’s confrontational.
Do you feel like you’ve found a good art community in Boulder?
Yeah, but I’m a little bit unsatisfied with a lot of things about the art world in general that I think I’m gonna find anywhere. I think it’s really unfortunate the way that art exists in society, that it’s either at a coffee shop or a gallery. I’d honestly rather have my work in a coffee shop than in a gallery, because a gallery is cold and stale, and people go just to look at the art. This is more inviting.