Ali Cavanaugh

“I’m attracted to humans more than any other subject. It is the mystery of existence, the depth of a soul that gives me continual curiosity in my creative process.“

Your paintings -my opinion here- appear to always be immersed in light the subject. If I am correct, what would you say is your personal narrative behind this (conscious or subconscious) choice? What do you want to convey to the viewer?

The light is something that surfaced in my work when I was living in the American Southwest, Santa Fe, New Mexico. It was also at this time in my life that I began digging deeper into my faith. I think both worlds, the physical and the spiritual, influenced the light that I sought to convey in my paintings.

You focus on human figures and faces. What are the aesthetic elements that grasp your attention?

For my paintings, I’m attracted to humans more than any other subject. It is the mystery of existence, the depth of a soul that gives me continual curiosity in my creative process.

Much of your dedication to the visual world started when you lost much of another sense (hearing) due to an illness. How much of this “blessing in disguise” do you think is traceable in your paintings?

The way that I see the world, especially people, is directly influenced by my hearing loss. I have to depend on reading lips and reading body language to communicate. So from an early age, I learned to be hyper-aware of others and subtle messages in communication.

Modern frescos is how you define your work. Can you quickly go through the technique you use to create your paintings? How did you come up with it? Any inspirations? How important do you think it is for an artist to develop their own unique technique?

When I was renovating a house in Santa Fe, I learned the old world skill of plastering walls with trowels. At this time I was working with watercolor on paper, trying to find an alternative that wouldn’t need to be framed behind glass. It was during my time plastering that I thought, “Can’t I use watercolor on plaster?”  “Isn’t that fresco?” “What is fresco?”.

In my research, I found a clay material that I would be able to make my own version of plaster panels to paint on. In this research, I found a company that was making these panels for watercolorists. These panels were produced with a combination of clay fortified with polymer. The surface worked wonderfully. I call my paintings Modern Fresco Paintings because they are very similar to the process of fresco secco painting, but using modern materials.

In my opinion, developing one’s own unique technique is the most important part of being truly successful as an artist.


In your series “Subconscious” you go after the unseen part of human character. How do manage to do this on canvas? In your opinion How does the subconscious condition your art and the world of art in general?

I think the “subconscious” in art is the intangible mystery, the sublime, that lifts our soul from this world to the next. That is what’s so beautiful about the arts in general.

Your single painting you are most emotionally attached to? Why?

There are a few that have been milestone pieces. I will always have a special attachment to “Lost” and “Open”. They were two pieces that set me in a new direction when a huge chapter was coming to a close in my creative journey.  

What you feel to be your greatest achievement in your career? Why?

I feel that my greatest achievement in my career is making a living as a professional working artist. By that I mean, supporting a family (ie, house, car, food on the table, etc) through the sale of my work.

It’s almost impossible to do.

You propose yourself also as a mentor to other artists. Where has this choice came from? What are the most common issues people are encountering? And the tip you hear yourself most giving out??

I had a mentor about 15 years ago that helped me overcome serious obstacles that hindered my growth as an artist. Without that mentor, I would not be where I’m at today. So I feel that it is also important for me to give back in this way.

In the art world, there is no set right or wrong way to do things. This is good in the sense that we are creative and we have the freedom to design the life that we want to have for ourselves.

I think most of the time, other artists that are struggling just need someone that’s a little further along in the journey to encourage them.

My most common word of advice is, “Yes…it is very hard. It takes many hours of work, year after year, for very little pay”

A living artist (also not a painter) you want to point to our readers?

My favorite living artist that is not a painter, is poet, Dana Gioia

What are you working at right now?

Commissioned Portraits and promoting my new book, Modern Fresco Paintings -available online internationally

"Looking through to you"

Credits: Ali Cavanaugh

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