Artist Abstract: Meet Cherlyn Wilcox

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Cherlyn Wilcox in her studio at The Emerson.
Cherlyn Wilcox in her studio at The Emerson.

On the top floor of the Emerson Center for the Arts and Culture, Cherlyn Wilcox’s studio is pulsing with creativity, energy, and today a mix of classic jazz. The abstract artist often calls her studio a mess, but there is a pleasant harmony to the groupings of oil paint, acrylic, graphite, and colored pencils. Dozens of canvases line the walls, on shelves, on easels, and propped against the wall. The range of Cherlyn’s work is impressive; the pieces in the North East corner are dark and moody, full of rich blues and greens; high on the top shelves on the South wall sit canvases with light blues, pinks, and yellow, evocative of her Hawaiian roots. “It’s never this clean in here (she laughs), but I’m enjoying it while this photo shoot lasts.”

On studio vibes: “Music is a must,” Wilcox says. “Music helps to shut off part of the brain, so I can just let the work take place.” She doesn’t start a painting with a plan or even a color scheme. “The first layer is a warm up. I see marks and the way the colors are working together, and one drip or brush stroke determines what my next move will be. I like to listen to music that fits my mood, and then just do what feels right on the canvas. I’m getting better at letting accidents happen. It’s a challenge, yet most of the time, they move me in the right direction.”

paint brush, artist
Tools of the trade: Cherlyn’s collection of brushes, pastels and paint on her work table.

On the creative process: “Each canvas is a new emotional experience. I’m in the studio painting and working and thinking, and want those feelings to be expressed on the canvas. I’m taking the complex things in life, the highs, the lows, beauty, my environment, and translating these emotions into a piece. I appreciate the spontaneity of the process and freedom that abstract art allows me.”

On all the feels: “Ideally I just want someone to get lost in the emotions of my work because I do when I am painting it.”

On motivation: Cherlyn has been able to commit to being a full-time artist for about 5 years. She goes to her studio five days a week, even if she leaves for a dog-walk almost immediately. “Sometimes it’s just not going to happen, and that’s okay. It’s important to make an effort to be in the studio, sit with my art, and often just being there generates excitement.” Multi-tasking also makes it easier to stay motivated. “I’m always working on multiple pieces at once. I work on canvas and paper, and it’s nice to mix up the mediums. The approach is so different starting to work on a large canvas rather than a smaller paper piece; it is nice to balance them out.”

install, interior design, art, wall art
Cherlyn’s abstract pieces grace the walls of a 5 West design project by Abby Hetherington Interiors.

On calling it a day: “I can’t get too attached to the piece, or I’d never add another brush stroke. While painting, I often take a step back and turn the piece. It will change the whole feel, or I get an immediate sense that it’s wrong, totally wrong. When I think a piece is finished, I’ll sit with it awhile, about a month. It’s a fine line though; I can’t look at it too long or I’ll over critique it.”

Cherlyn lives in Bozeman with her husband, Paul, and their two pups, Zeppelin and June Bug.

artist, studio, painter, abstract art
Cherlyn dons her paint filled smock in her studio.

Stop by her studio space in room 217 at the Emerson or shop her work hanging in our downtown furniture store. For direct inquiries contact her at .

Thank you for inviting us into your studio, Cherlyn!

Photography by Cathy Copp