Artist C. Finley views the world through prisms, always looking for color in an often times black-and-white world. And when that doesn’t work, she paints, using buckets of the stuff, largely in hues of blues, greens, purples and pinks. Lots of pinks.
With her paint brush and roller, the former Long Beach State Masters of Fine Arts major wants to color the world in shades of positivity, something she says is lacking in today’s society. It’s the motivation behind her murals and other large-scale paintings that adorn walls and galleries and dumpsters from Los Angeles to Rome.
More on the dumpsters later.
Finley is a Rome-based artist whose elaborate geometric paintings and use of bright colors have brought her acclaim from galleries worldwide. Her work has been exhibited in Vienna and New York, in galleries located in Miami and Los Angeles, and on the pages of the New York Times, Women’s Wear Daily and Huffington Post.
“I always knew I wanted to be a player in the international way,” Finley said. “I always wanted to travel and be a part of the world, to play the global scene.”
Recently, Finley’s art has gone big, with a capital B. In April, she finished her third mural called, “Sky Dance” that adorns the side of a parking garage in downtown Houston. Last October, Finley put the finishing touches on “Divine Feminine”, a silhouetted color-blocked woman on a pink background that greets drivers near the intersection of Pico Boulevard and Grand Street in Los Angeles.
“What the world needs now is some happiness, some positivity because it seems like everyone is down and mired in the political environment,” Finley said.
“I feel we are not going to be able to change those who don’t have a joyful heart. In the mural of dancers flying through the air in Houston, you can see people as they walk by with a big smile on their face. So, we are putting a little bit of slice of joy in their heart.
“I feel we need to start there.”
Unknown to Finley, the owner of a Houston skyscraper watched her work on the L.A. mural and approached her about doing something similar in Texas.
“I’ve always liked to work large,” she said. “I was a scenic painter fresh out of Pratt Institute (where she got her B.A.), so I learned a lot about working on really large-scale paintings.”
Finely said meeting new people is a side perk of working on murals, who stop to admire her work and Instagram it.
“I’m an extroverted person, so the studio work feels a little lonely, even though it gives me a lot of solitude,” she said. “So, to connect with people like this gives me a lot of enjoyment. I could never have imagined it and now I can’t imagine my life without it.”
Finley’s creative side was born out of boredom growing up in Sedalia, town of 21,000, located in the heart of Missouri. She said it was the perfect place for her “because I could be wild and free.”
Despite being the home to Daum Museum of Contemporary Art that houses exhibitions by such artists as Andy Warhol, Julian Schnabel and Helen Frankenthaler, Finley discovered her inspiration down another artist avenue.
“I was inspired by Madonna and Prince and following their lead, I subscribed to Interview magazine and found my tribe,” she said. “On another note, the Chinese landscape paintings at the Nelson Atkins Museum in Kansas City moved me to tears at 12 (years old).”
Finley eventually left Sedalia and enrolled at Pratt Institute of Art, where she earned her B.A. She developed her love of community and the environment while earning her master’s degree at Long Beach State. It’s also where her activism was ignited.
In an interdisciplinary studies class, each student was asked to create a piece of art using something other than their preferred medium. For Finley, that meant putting down her paint brush and look beyond the easel. She saw wallpaper and steel shipping containers.
“I was working at a wallpaper magazine and I always had a couple of rolls around,” she recalled.
Finley was visiting the Port of Los Angeles when she noticed how dismal shipping containers looked but knew immediately decorating them was impossible. She turned to dumpsters, those bulky utilitarian boxes that normally found behind companies and apartment buildings.
She papered her first dumpster for her class assignment in 2006, her third for a dumpster on campus and didn’t stop until there were roughly 50 beautified dumpsters all around the world. There were flowers in New York and smiles in Santa Monica. In Paris, dumpsters resembled vintage lace. Some of her other wallpapered creations popped up in cities such as Paris, Dublin and San Francisco.
“They bring a lot of joy to people when they see literally the ugliest thing in the world become a beautiful precious work of art.
“The wallpaper dumpster project was a really great way to use art to help people think ‘If this dumpster is a work of art, I want to put my trash in the right place, and I want to put my compost here and I want to put my recycling here.
“It’s a way to create a positive or surprising or creative way to ask people to consider where their trash goes.”
The dumpster project not only inspired people to throw their garbage in the decorated receptacles and earned her nicknames, such as “Dumpster Diva”, it ignited a passion within Finley. She wanted to show that Long Beach had its own mecca of artists, some right on campus.
That vision led to creating GLAMFA, the annual exhibition where MFA and MA students from various area schools display their work at the school’s galleries. Finley and six other MFA students organized the event and it continues to be curated by Long Beach State’s School of Art graduate students.
“One of the greatest assets at Long Beach is the art gallery complex, which is like a million-dollar complex,” said Finley. “Most schools don’t have that level of professional gallery spaces, so I just thought ‘Wow, this is such an asset. Why don’t we bring the community, the greater L.A. community, here and show them what we got?’”
GLAMFA will hold its 13th annual show next February.
“GLAMFA is now ensconced as a major annual event for the Southern California art scene, and it wouldn’t have ever gotten started without Finley’s vision and energy,” said ceramics professor Jay Kvapil.
Finley said Kvapil had a major influence on her during her time at Long Beach State, serving as her mentor during her two years. She, in turn, mentored an undergraduate student, Jahan Khajavipour, who she eventually hired to be her studio assistant in Rome.
“We mentored each other,” Finley said of Khajavipour. “Through the Whitney Houston Biennial, I have exhibited several artists from Long Beach State.”
Kvapil recalls Finley as energetic and charismatic.
“As an artist, of course, she is a creative thinker. If she gets an idea in her head to do something, no matter how large or complex, she will get it done,” he said.
Yet it was Finley’s work with dumpsters that garnered her praise from the contemporary art world – outside of Long Beach. Suddenly her colorful patterns and abstract figures were being featured in galleries, leading eventually to exhibitions at Galerie Ernst Hilger in Vienna, Superchief Gallery in Los Angeles and New York’s Jenn Singer Gallery.
“I always had that inside of myself. I always had that strong calling to be an artist. So, I put those two together and here I am,”she said.