Artist Cindy Phenix Savors ‘Life at Large’ While Painting in an Italian Palazzo

The Los Angeles-based artist is currently undertaking a residency at Palazzo Monti in Brescia, Italy.

Cindy Phenix. Courtesy of the artist.

Artist Cindy Phenix creates worlds within worlds, filling her paintings with kaleidoscopic color and intricate, fragmented vignettes. In these paintings, figures and locations teeter at the edge of recognizability, flickering between reality and fantasy, and leaving plenty of room for interpretation. Using abstraction and figuration as tools, Phenix broaches infinitely complex narratives such as climate change, ecology, and radical optimism about the future of culture and society.

Cindy Phenix, Fulgurate Daylight Flows in Ascension (2024). Courtesy of the artist.

Originally from Montreal, Canada, and currently based in Los Angeles, Phenix is now undertaking a month-long artist residency at the Palazzo Monti in Brescia, Italy. With a history dating back to the 1200s, the palazzo offers a decidedly different ambiance for the artist. Marking the occasion, we reached out to Phenix to learn more about the studio she’s been using at Palazzo Monti and how her new settings have ignited her imagination.

Inside the studio of Cindy Phenix at the Palazzo Monti, with black and white tiled floors and whitewashed beamed ceiling and partially finished works tacked up on the two walls and a stool in the corner with books piled on top.

Inside Phenix’s studio at Palazzo Monti, Brescia, Italy. Photo: Cindy Phenix.

First, tell us a bit about your home studio. Where is it, how long have you been there, what’s your favorite thing about it…?

My studio is situated in Lincoln Heights, Los Angeles, and I have been there since I moved to the city three years ago. It’s a large space with many skylights. I have a great garage door that I leave open, letting more light in, and a beautiful view of a garden full of flowers and plants where I can sit and read. The garden welcomes a lot of hummingbirds and from time to time they fly into my studio, which is my favorite thing.

View from the studio of Cindy Phenix at the Palazzo Monti, Brescia, Italy, with a small balcony with planters and a blue sky with clouds and overlooking various stucco buildings with terracotta tiled roofs.

View from Cindy Phenix’s studio at the Palazzo Monti, Brescia, Italy. Photo: Cindy Phenix.

And what is the studio space you’re working from at the Palazzo Monti residency like? What’s the view?

My studio is on the top floor of Palazzo Monti. It is bright with two balconies, a gray-and-pink painted wood ceiling, and a beautiful marble fireplace with a metal plate carved with angels. I often pause to look at the view. I see the greenery of the trees, a mountain with a castle, a variety of terracotta palettes applied to the buildings’ walls, and so many wild white flowers growing between the clay tiles of the roofs.

At the center of it all, close to my window, I see an old rusty chimney with six steps and a pinecone installed at the top of it. I am absolutely obsessed with this artifact. It is such a beautiful and elegant detail.

View out of the studio of Cindy Phenix showing a pinecone figurine installed at the top of a chimney.

Photo: Cindy Phenix.

Undertaking this residency, did you set out with a specific goal or project in mind?

I had set a personal goal to explore different approaches to materiality. A new focus has been to experiment with aquarelle. I am enjoying the lack of control over this medium, and how the water creates such fluid and abstract movements with the pigment. I let the drops fall out of the brush and observe the way they navigate this new map and blend with the other pigments: how the colors are applied to build scenes by shadow and light; how the appliance of light is limited as the colors build the scene, and you cannot quite come back to a composition if you overbuild it.

Photo: Cindy Phenix.

I have also been painting in very small formats, which is new for me and quite challenging. In Los Angeles, I usually work on formats larger than my body, transforming the act of painting and drawing into a performance, where I, the artist, become an extension of the scenery. I feel comfortable with the control of these large gestures, perhaps it has become habit for me. In these smaller formats, the gestures are more intimate, and the spontaneous marks must be abruptly stopped or controlled.

What’s your favorite part of Palazzo Monti, or one that you find most beautiful or inspirational?

Inspiration flourishes here! I am astonished by the beautiful frescoes from the 17th century that cover the walls and ceilings of the palace. My favorite is on the second floor in the gallery space. It depicts a group of women surrounded by a spiral of clouds in a large sky with trees and waterfalls. Sitting together, they appear as a beautiful community exchanging thoughts on art, culture, and life. They play musical instruments, a guitar, a trumpet, a transverse flute. They hold a theater mask, a book, and a ruler. They hold and share the power of knowledge. I have been lying on the floor to observe and appreciate all the pertinent details, to reinterpret this scene in a new painting I started during this residency.

Fresco inside the Palazzo Monti, Bescia, Italy. Photo: Cindy Phenix.

Can you tell us what you are currently working on?

Conceptually, I am exploring the idea of distribution, care, and generosity from an eco-centric perspective. Distortion and erasure of our surroundings, species, and abandoned landscapes result from human involvement. I think about the different scales of our environmental crisis—global and local—and the challenges of generating long-term and immediate solutions.

Through this research, I am inspired to interpret new worlds and scenarios filled with hope for the future and the coexistence of all forms of life. Individuals listening to one another, listening to the silence, thunder, and wind. Slowness is a political act in itself. While having time and opportunity in Brescia to deepen this conceptual research, I am beginning to work on some sketches for an upcoming project while also painting and drawing sceneries of sounds, women playing musical instruments, mermaids listening to seashells, opera singers in sparkling blue cobalt dress, birds, and lines of abstract sound. For me, it creates a sense of collectivity and hope.

Photo: Cindy Phenix.

What tool, supply, or material do you enjoy working with the most? Why? Or is there anything in your studio that a visitor might find surprising?

My art practice involves a wide variety of materials and tools, but the most enjoyable and the most surprising for me is the pigment. The different colors applied on linen, fabric, or paper create different effects and influence the atmosphere and the emotions transmitted in each composition. The pigment takes many forms—powdery, dusty, flat, veiled, porous, opaque, textured. Mixed with gel, dammar, or wax, they differ in transparency and thickness. I use so many different colors in my paintings, but always believe that more colors are needed.

Sometimes people are surprised by the amount of material in the studio and how organized everything is *laugh*. I find it easier to create chaos when I know where to look for each tool or material.

Photo: Cindy Phenix.

Whenever you feel stuck on a piece or a project like an upcoming show, what do you do to help get yourself unstuck?

I have a multitude of books across my studio and home that inspire me. Among my collection are art books featuring my favorite artists or exhibitions, geometric gardens and urbanism, the construction of paper boxes, different theories about the depth of the ocean, and the future of agriculture. I revisit these books to redirect my focus when I feel unsure of the next step.

If I remain unsure of my next step, I pause to experience life simply. I love hiking, bowling, mini golf, amusement parks, aquariums, anything! I draw inspiration from life at large.

Photo: Cindy Phenix

What kind of mood or atmosphere do you prefer when working in the studio, are you playing music, watching something, are there things you keep in the studio for inspiration? Is this any different at the residency studio compared to your home studio?

The atmosphere varies depending on which step I am at during the process of the work—the emotions I want to transfer through a landscape or a character—and the hour of the day. I find that sound context can be deeply influencing or distracting on the pastel and brush marks. The atmosphere encompasses all possibilities.

While projecting a collage on a large format, I listen to philosophy or psychology podcasts. While painting the chaotic abstract parts, I listen to music. I also love the ambient sounds of whales singing, rain, or simply silence. At night, I enjoy any kind of horror comedy or cliché romantic comedy movies. At Palazzo Monti, I have been enjoying silence a lot, but I also watched (and loved) the most embarrassing romance show…to be kept secret 🙂

 


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