We had the good fortune of connecting with Christiana Lewis Ulwelling and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Christiana, what makes you happy? Why?
What makes me happy ? and why? I chose this question because happiness-seeking has been my insane life’s quest since I was a tiny, displaced little tot. Now as a grown woman, I search more consciously for what makes me joyful and happy. In my past, my perception of happiness has been completely dependent on situations, attention from others, material things, accolades, monetary rewards, relationships and physical traits, taking me on a roller coaster ride. Happiness for me has evolved into an understanding that it comes from within and is not dependent on others. I have not mastered the “Art of Non Attachment” as of yet. My personal treasure box of joy includes quite a long list of passions: exploding laughter, deep connected love in my friendships and with my mate, travel, and meeting new people and learning their cultures. I absolutely adore animals and have been known to dodge cars to cross a street for a puppy, bunny or squirrel! I thrive on music, music, music and more music from the moment I wake up to the moment I hit the cozy sheets. (Cozy also makes me happy.) Music for me has always been a form of mood elevation and escapism. And what goes best with music — dancing! I always said if I were not an artist I would have been a dancer … or at least fantasized about it. But above all these sources of happiness, my top two are creating art and performing acts of selfless service. Art makes me happy because when painting I completely dissolve into the moment. I hope at the same time to heal or inspire the viewer in some way. Through this connection, I feel alive. I particularly enjoy reaching children. I just can’t bear to see people suffering, especially defenseless children. My early years as a child were quite tramatziing and painful to say the least. I grew up in several children’s homes and foster care until I was almost five. Although I was fortunate enough to be adopted, my early years fostered fear of abandonment, lack of trust, depression and anxiety, issues I still struggle with to this day. I share this because I truly believe my early childhood experience was the catalyst for my deep feelings of empathy and compassion. As I was in need of healing, through my art I hope to play some role in the healing of others. I want no living being to suffer in his or her heart.
God gifted a path for me: I have been fortunate enough to combine great sources of happiness into one life of travel, art and service for neglected children and really anyone in need! For the past 25 years I have been donating my time both locally and globally to help those in need — partciularly children — find mental relief. I created the Non-Failure Healing Art Program and have taken it to India, Bali, Laos, Pakistan, Burma, Thailand and Mexico, among other places, including those as exotic as our United States. People and children from all walks of life and abilities can do the Non-Failure program. From what I have observed, most feel a sense of self-worth, joy and emotional release in finishing their beautiful pieces of art. For instance, in the slums of Pakistan a couple years ago, I witnessed young children at first coming to me angry, emotionally distraut, fist-fighting and seemingly displaced. By the end of my 8 week Non-Failure course, the same children were smiling, happy and working together on a colorful 20 x 10 foot mural. They were holding paint trays for one another, rinsing brushes and picking up trash! They even sang I love you and I love the USA. Maybe this selfless service really is not selfless at all, because in the end it is what gives me the greatest sense of happiness.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
I have always felt passionately that “my art ” is not really “my art ” at all. I say this because even as a tiny child I had an obsession with different religious faiths and spiritual sects. I also feel an intense universal vibration and connection to all things living and not. Simply put, I feel that God and cosmic vibrations work through me, and that I am simply a lyrical vessel comunicating and expressing emotional energies on canvas. The human form has always been my creative focal point, and I have been drawing nudes from my mind’s eye as early as age seven. I have long been fascinated by curves and organic shapes.
My obsession then is still my obsession to this day, but over the past thirty years it has grown into a broader interest with the human condition. It would only seem fitting and natural to combine my two obsessions onto textural canvas through my “vision-board canvas art.” This is what I am known for to this day. The majority of my comissioned pieces are for collectors desiring a life change, personal shift or profound, souful connection with another. I create for all couples including straight, gay and LGBTQ. My work has an ethereal and vibrational element to; it is almost like an affirmation. Before I start a new piece, I collect from clients love letters, photos, poems, musical lyrics, baby sonagrams, exotic and errotic papers and symbols of significance. I have even been asked to incorporate ashes from loved ones departed. All of these momentos are poured into one or more figures on canvas to create an almost life-filled breathing piece. I have been informed on numerous occasions that my pieces have caused viewers to weep — weep in hope, weep in joy, weep in love and weep in an awakening. If this is correct than my art is doing its job.
I feel ambivalent about discussing what sets me apart from others beause this universe is filled with glorious talent, passion and deep-feeling humans. What I can say is that I check in with myself daily to ask how I am feeling and how I can be more kind, more loving and less judgmental. Then I meditate on creating a new path. I am very hard on myself which, of course, can project outward and is not very pretty. I can get dark quite fast (this comes genetically given both of my birth parents’ history of mental illnesses and depression), so checking in is important, after which I tell myself: “Go paint it out before you kill yourself.” A friend counseled me on this strategy once when I was in a horrific slump … it worked!
What I am most proud of is my scrapper-surviver attitude, personal awareness, willingness to change, and ability to persevere in art and in life. I am certain these survival instincts were developed during my early years, being tossed about from home to home, and honed during my ten years living in New York City. At twenty-three I had a makeup job in Manhattan: I fell in love with the city and its energy. I dumped all my cash into a rented apartment on the spot and with minimal money left in my account, flew back to Laguna Beach, packed my bags and got a one-way ticket back to the Big Apple. This was a turning point in my life and, with joy in my heart, having no regrets, I never looked back. While there, I supplemented my income as a makeup artist/fashion stylist and at the same time I aggressively banged on gallery and night club doors trying to get art shows. Eventually it worked. Shows started popping up for me from Boston to New York and eventually down to Bergamot Station in LA and elsewhere. None of it was easy but at the time I didn’t see any other solution. That’s what being a fearless, twenty-three year old does for you! I am also extremely proud of the Non-Failure Healing Art Program that I created and travel with to this day. I am proud because I got the program off the ground with with my own funding. I am proud that it works and really does bring joy and healing to others. It heals me just as much as it heals my students.
I am constantly working on self-healing, which leads me into my biggest challange. My biggest challange is learning to overcome my own roller coaster of depression and anxiety. I work really hard devising strategies to combat the darkness even before it arises. I do this with yoga, meditation, laughter, nature, my puppy, friends and dancing with my love in the kitchen at home, and yes, red wine!
The lessons I have learned along the way are: value you, be kind, don’t ever give up, and never ever let someone tell you you can’t (because maybe they can’t). Be solely and uniquely you, not a copy cat artist; you have the tools inside. Ride out the dark storm because there is beauty in the eye. Do not be an opportunist or unauthentic because it will bite you in the ass! Radiate pure, unequivocal love to all people, races, identities, religions, ages and income levels. A life without gratitude and love is not worth living. My story is about the power of healing through art and the power that art has to heal. My art reveals stories of personal growth, real and unreal love, kindness, passion, truth, personal loss, the beauty of sexuality, hope and so much more! From my deepest core, I truly hope that my art can assist others on their own paths to love, personal change and healing.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
Let’s assume it is one of my New York pals coming to visit so on Saturday we will start off at Pirates cove in Laguna beach for some sunshine and paddle boarding with my local friends. We head up the hill around 6 to Mozambique’s rooftop bar for an amazing orange sunset, hors d’oeuvres and martinis. Sunday is perfect for LA and the arts district’s Art Share L.A , where I had a fabulous studio for some time. Since my friend is on vacation we are a bit more spendy so we check into a hotel and hit the rooftop pool at the London hotel in West Hollywood or Chateau Marmont. The next morinig we head for the Griffith Park hiking trail followed by a little more food and fun at the Abbey or dancing in the streets in Santa Monica on 3rd st. We are wiped out by Tuesday so I check her into a spa to relax, and I head to the Yogananda center at the Pacific Palisades to chill and draw at the spiritual lake shrine. feeling totally rejuvinated we meet up at 7 at Wabi Rose sushi in Venice beach befor I take her to LAX and off she will go, back to NYC!
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
Although she has since passed, I have to say my adopted mother deserves a shoutout. She used to pull me out of elementary and high school to take me to art shows, museums and art workshops. I shadowed my mother my at her printmaking class at age nine at the University of California at Irvine in the 70’s and remember visiting one of the most famous California printmakers and Painters in his Pasadena studio. It happened to be non other than the brilliant John Paul Jones. I later realised he was also the Print making teacher! My adopted mother never told me that in university I should not major in art, and never said as an artist I can not earn a living, but she did say expand your mind in all that education has to offer not just in the arts. Always count on yourself to take care of your self and have a back up plan. I have a dear artist friend of 35 years who definitely needs a Shoutout, Elizabeth Laul Healey. Lizzy and I met in ceramics class at Laguna beach High school in the 80’s. I could not throw a pot other than on the floor, and elizabeth was not super skilled in painting ( that since has changed ). She would throw pots and I would paint them , we had a good thing going and have been art soul sisters ever since. Lizzy, as I call her has always told me, “Chrissy one day you will be famous”, and she has said this for the past 35 years in consistency! Now am I famous? no… not yet…hahaha but I am wildly passionale about what I do. Elizabeth’s faith and love for me, and in my art me has kept me going in times of fear…I Truly thank her for from the bottom of my heart. Finally I must thank my amazing, and wildly talented friend Rejoy Marsella. Not only is Rejoy a brilliant, award winning interior decorator she is a goddess of love and compassion to all. Rejoy referred me to you Shout out LA! Thank you Rejoy with all of my heart.
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