Spotlight: Self-Taught Artist Cindy Motley Blends Outsider Art Aesthetics With Gustav Klimt’s Golden Motifs

The California-based artist's paintings weave together her interests in sewing, portraiture, and spirituality.

Cindy Motley, A Mother’s Love (n.d.). Courtesy of the artist.

Every month, hundreds of galleries add newly available works by thousands of artists to the Artnet Gallery Network—and every week, we shine a spotlight on one artist or exhibition you should know. Check out what we have in store, and inquire for more with one simple click. 

About the Artist: Since childhood, California-based self-taught artist Cindy Motley has been creating works of illustration, writing, and even sewing projects. But her journey to painting began at the age of 32 when she was gifted supplies as a birthday present and began developing a deep commitment to the practice. In the nearly 30 years since, Motley has tried on a variety of styles, but has always come back to acrylic painting, which allows for rapid experimentation. Eventually, Motley, who previously worked in the fashion industry, started to incorporate decorative patterns and textiles into her work, synthesizing her interests. Nearly three decades later, at the age of 60, Motley continues to paint purely from her imagination, creating images that embrace the flattened, frontal imagery typical of Outsider art while imbuing her backgrounds with a variety of decorative schemas drawn from art history.

Cindy Motley in the studio working on a still untitled work.

Cindy Motley in her studio working on an untitled work.

Why We Like It: Motley’s paintings emerge from a place of intuition. Rather than drawing or sketching beforehand, she begins with the bold choice of painting her figures’ faces. These faces, she says, give her a sense of the work’s essence. Motley considers many of the symbols and decorative patterns she incorporates to be rooted in spirituality. Ribbons feature frequently, symbolizing the innate connections between human beings. Gold blocks, meanwhile, represent balance, while hummingbirds embody the spirits of those who have passed from this world while also serving as messengers of inspiration, lightness, and joy. These works emerge, for Motley, from a connection to the divine and spiritual world. Until recently, she has kept them private because of their deep personal significance. But at the same time, they draw from a broad array of art-historical references. The artist notes her interest in Henri Matisse, Paul Gauguin, and Mary Cassatt; the influence of the Vienna Secession artists, particularly Gustav Klimt, is evident in her use of flattened gold and Egyptian revivalist decorative planes.

According to the Artist: “The process is so magical and peaceful it feels as though I’m weaving out a painting… The layering I use in sewing is very similar to the layering process I use in these paintings… I believe we all have something to give to this world that is uniquely ours. Each painting is telling a story through the theme and the elements I use. Sometimes that gift takes time to develop. The process is different for everyone. This is my gift and I am just grateful at the age of 60 that I can now share it.”

There’s No Place Like Home
Inquire for More Information

Cindy Motley, There’s No Place Like Home. Courtesy of the artist.

Cindy Motley, There’s No Place Like Home (n.d.). Courtesy of the artist.


A Walk In The Park
Inquire for More Information

Cindy Motley, A Walk In The Park. Courtesy of the artist.

Cindy Motley, A Walk In The Park (n.d.). Courtesy of the artist.

Your Wish is My Command
Inquire for More Information

Cindy Motley, Your Wish is My Command. Courtesy of the Artist.

Cindy Motley, Your Wish is My Command (n.d.). Courtesy of the artist.


Discover more about the art of Cindy Motley on the Artnet Gallery Network.

Follow Artnet News on Facebook:

Want to stay ahead of the art world? Subscribe to our newsletter to get the breaking news, eye-opening interviews, and incisive critical takes that drive the conversation forward.