Trinity Arts Interview Series: Courtney Garrett

Meet Courtney Garrett, a painter whose passion for both God and her work radiates in her discussion of creativity and process. Read on to learn more about community, grace, love, and the culinary potential of a pop-tart. 

Q: What is your favorite space to create?

Courtney Garrett: My favorite place to create is in my studio.  Sounds like such an ordinary answer, but “the stude” is quite extraordinary in scale. With its understated ability to act as a blank canvas, gloss white floors, white walls, and soaring white ceilings- it’s a cavernous, mysterious place.  I have no windows, yet the room is perfectly day lit 24 hours around the clock.  At 2 in the morning you can paint with as much vigor as you did at 2 in the afternoon.  It’s a remarkably minimal space, but if the walls could talk, I would have already heard every story. No heat, no a/c, and no problems.

Q: What is your favorite snack to eat while creating?

CG: Well I’m a very healthy eater.  However I often forget to eat in massively creative spurts.  It’s almost as if the painting alone is self-sustaining.  My assistants, who are really two of the dearest people in my life, are always bringing me in a few of my favorite foods... Hummus, quinoa, and fresh fruits.  Amelia always has me bananas and snack bars waiting when she knows I have not eaten in hours… and Rebecca is always making some homegrown something that we seem to devour together at odd hours. Some days, we have picnics in the middle of whatever we are doing at the moment, just to get outside and see the sun or the moon… We can make a pop-tart a gourmet feast if you give us a few minutes-- But If you were to ask… what was the most precious part of our daily consumption??--- we would say hot tea in the winters and cold water in the summer.

Q: How do you handle artist’s block (times when it is hard to create)?

CG: I don’t handle it.  I just keep painting.  I often times don’t get the chance to stop and even wonder what to do about it.  I think the most important part of my work is the hours and days before I even begin painting.  I know what is the end goal or a narrative if you will, and I stick to the story.  From that first moment when a concept is birthed – I know what the goal is.  It only gets frustrating when the narrative isn’t coming through in the works…at that point I usually find myself literally sitting in a pile of papers containing drawings, writings, and photography.  Usually you will find one of my assistants whole heartedly sitting with me… then all the sudden it happens- I get up and get moving again. 

Q: How do you stay motivated and disciplined as an artist in our distracting society?

CG: I keep some really valuable wisdom that my Father shared with me almost every day of my childhood life… he would say: “Janey. Dream big, and then dream bigger—keep focused and keep a vision at all times. If you can visualize it, then baby you can do it”. 

I can hear it in my head during the oddest moments of my work day/night… it keeps the outside noise to a minimum.

Q: What is the best advice someone has given you?

CG: “Hey you’re a painter!”

Q: What is your theme song?

CG: “The Lime tree” by Trevor Hall

Q: If you were an animal, what animal would you be?

CG: One of my dogs…Ollie or Rufus—they really have it made.

Q: Who/what has inspired you lately and/or locally (i.e. other artists, exhibits, shows, bands, designers, etc)?

CG: An artist named Kwan Young Lee here in Atlanta.  He is one of the most honest guys around with such passion for his works of art.  We have begun to collect his paintings and it is such an honor.  I can walk past his work and be moved to tears.  You can literally feel the relational wonder between God and Man in his works.  Somehow he can represent the struggle of human kind, while seamlessly and simultaneously illustrating the wonder of an infinite God. 

Q: Have you worked in your medium in some sort of community lately, be it collaboration, brainstorming, etc? How has that environment affected the work?

CG: I work in a community of artist, but there is not really any physical collaboration, just relationship—we talk about life and work, but most of the time just to enjoy each other’s company in conversation.  We all used to take breaks at around the same time- we would randomly sit out on the porch by the train tracks and just be for a bit.  Then we would all disappear as quickly as we emerged.  There is a really beautiful line of working very privately but also knowing when it’s time to be together.   

Q: What is one book/song/painting/piece/etc that has been enriching to your faith?

CG: There are many--- probably the most consistent through the years has been the song “Blackbird” by Paul McCartney and John Lennon.

Q: What is your connection to the Divine when you create? Does it resonate with you spiritually when you come up with new work?

CG: This past year I learned what the word “grace” actually means for me as a person.  The forgiveness, love, and acceptance in this tiny little word has shifted my paradigm from simply emotional works to extravagant attempts at inspiring hope.  The technical side of producing this revelation in my work has required more and more contemplation, research and study.  How to evoke emotion was easy for me, but how to reach the most “tough skinned” person with simple color and imagery took completely absorbing myself into the work.  There are nights that I dream of complete series--then wake up and create on that dream for 6 months or so.  You have to accept the intensity of being an artist- I feel that I have a responsibility to awaken every sense in a viewer to see, and even hear the noise or the quiet in a piece.  It has never been so much for me about sharing “my emotion” or “expressing myself”, but more about having an understanding of the viewer’s need to experience and encounter something. And that something being the rawest form of encounter…

I think clearly, that my work exists to ask an unsettling question of its viewers and to deliver a subconscious hope that goes much deeper than a causal encounter.

Again it’s not me, and it’s never been about me—but God has so much love for human beings.
Recently, I have really been absorbed by the Love of God for His Bride.  Sometimes when I look around, I see that bride being abused by man, or by a misunderstanding of her own identity, and  it literally brings me to tears… I end up in the studio, and out it comes… it’s like every painting has become a petition for human beings to feel the love of God. And for some jostling in their spirit’s deepest-forgotten-part, to just feel again—and to receive such a foreign unconditional love.  Do I paint crosses? No.  I don’t.  I paint from a secret chamber in my mind connected to my spirit--- I see images, and for some reason I see the Father in them, and I see our stories.  There is usually a lump in my throat and a double-timed beat in my chest…and I know an image is ready for the public.

Camera in hand, knee deep in mud (and only God knows what else) on some back woods road in the middle of no where, I have encountered some of the most spiritually driven moments in my faith and my career.  It’s like seeing God face to face, it’s intense, but some of the most romantic times in my life as an artist has come about in these unassuming moments.  He is the bridegroom- and to be the bride, you have to understand that you are loved deeply… to say it more clearly, I have a heart to see people realize that they are loved by the almighty.  It might sound “churchy” but I could care less— it’s like God has taken off my blinders, and I see a hurting broken human kind that does not have to be. It’s illustrated throughout my work over and over again. Christ didn’t die for my sin—he actually became my sin (2 cor. 5:21) when He hung on the cross, He said it was finished and breathed His last. – because of that I became whole...death was defeated but I also gained complete access to the extreme Love of a Holy God.  It’s almost like, if an image can raise up a dead man’s heart to feel God again, I would like to be the artist.  Although, there is nothing I can add to this great love story: of God becoming man, dying for me and being raised from the ground- I can get people thinking again, and feeling again.  Most days, these creative works exist, to raise up the Godly affections meant for all people.  

Q: Describe your process behind the featured piece.

CG: A mixed media process of 12-20 layers, including paper, plastics, photography, traditional oil paints, and resin.

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