We had the good fortune of connecting with Cynthia Grilli and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Cynthia, can you tell us about an impactful book you’ve read and why you liked it or what impact it had on you?
The book that I always return to again and again is Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke. I first discovered it in college and it gave me hope that I wasn’t alone in my artistic angst. The fact that Rilke, who was so gifted and accomplished but also gravely ill, took the time to write these beautiful letters to a struggling student amazed me. His advice and encouragement is so spot on, so timeless. I have quoted and clung to certain passages like a holy book, especially in trying times like the one we now find ourselves in. This quote in particular has served as a touchstone for me through the years – To be an artist means: not to calculate and count; but to grow and ripen like a tree which does not hurry the flow of its sap and stands at ease in the spring gales without fearing that no summer may follow. It will come. But it comes only to those who are patient, who are simply there in their vast, quiet tranquility, as if eternity lay before them. It is a lesson I learn every day amid hardships I am thankful for: patience is everything! I think this is a brilliant analogy. Patience is the hardest thing and trying to force an outcome doesn’t work in my experience. What does work is being disciplined, curious, and flexible with a sense of humor. Despite the hardships he faced (or maybe because of them), Rilke’s writing is infused with empathy and compassion.

Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
My paintings are primarily figurative although I will paint anything I find interesting and challenging. I tend to jump around a lot thematically, especially as I get older. More and more I find myself interested in difficult pieces that require a lot of creative problem solving. I like not knowing how I am going to paint something. As Rilke advised I have learned “to love the questions” that I don’t have a clue how to answer until I try a bunch of different things. In that process I expand my repertoire of responses and gain new insights which I find exciting. I don’t like to do the same thing twice and I have never been one to paint for the sake of selling. This has made finding representation challenging for me in the past but the internet and social media make getting eyes on the work a lot easier. Luckily I have teaching to fall back on so that I don’t have the pressure to sell work to survive. Having said that, it is very gratifying when a buyer connects with a piece. The biggest challenges I have faced have not been external as much as internal. My ego is always looking to act up. I go through bouts of anxiety and self-doubt like every other artist since the beginning of time but happily I go through them less often now. I have to remember that any suffering I experience comes from the expectations I heap on my art and not from the act of painting itself.  It hasn’t been easy, not by a long shot. However, I could never imagine doing anything else and I am grateful that I can survive doing what I love.

If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
My favorite spots in LA are the museums. It is fun to bring people to the Broad, show them Disney Hall, eat at Otium and head down to the Last Bookstore and Grand Central Market. An afternoon at the Getty is always nice, the grounds there are beautiful. A rooftop bar on a pretty day after wandering around is always a good time. In Orange County there are so many amazing restaurants, good live music, and of course there is always the beach. 

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?
I have to give a shout out to my parents, Lesley and Don Grilli, who have always been so supportive of me, even when my choices were baffling to them. It has made all the difference to have their encouragement and love. I am very lucky – I won the parent lottery!

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