Cindy Biles creates sculptural portraits with themes varying from whimsical to profound. She talks about the changes that have influenced her work.
ABI: You developed your art business despite an early negative experience. What happened?
CB: Creating art has always been a part of my life, whether drawing incessantly as a child or painting as a teenager. In junior high school, I had an art teacher who I greatly admired. She encouraged me and openly praised my work, which was inspiring and validating. I thought about pursuing an art career.
Suddenly, her critiques became quite negative and one day she said, loud enough for the class to hear, “You know, you’re really not very good.” This was unexpected and devastating, and shut me down as an artist for years.
On a positive note, the experience has made me a better educator. Happily, I rarely see art teachers do this today. However, I have seen parents degrade their children’s art and belittle the child, perhaps because they see the child as a reflection of themselves.
When we share our art we share something of ourselves so, when teaching, I try always to be supportive and instill confidence.
ABI: How has your work changed over time?
CB: When I returned to art I wanted to create narrative work that evokes memories and emotions. My figurative sculptures are representational. At first, I included a lot of details to invite the viewer in for a closer look and (perhaps closer to the truth) because I felt they were necessary for completeness.
I am learning to leave out some of these elements to encourage the viewer to bring his or her own experiences and perspectives to the piece. Although my work is not autobiographical, I’m becoming more comfortable creating art that reveals something about myself or how I perceive the human condition. Form and surface treatment may suggest multiple or conflicting messages: Strength and vulnerability. Beauty and flaws. Setbacks and victory.
ABI: What experiences influence your most recent sculpture?
CB: I’m at that age where most of us have experienced several of life’s milestones. A few years ago, my husband and I each lost a parent within a short time. This prompted a lot of reminiscing and introspection. I started thinking more about the different ways in which we adapt to and cope with these changes and how they transform us.
ABI: As an art teacher, what is most fulfilling to you?
CB: In designing a residency for a school, my goals are that students challenge themselves, learn a lot and have fun. It is so satisfying to see them work through the process, use their imaginations and create problems, which we solve together. In the end they have made something that is beyond their expectations and feel good about themselves.
I’ve had the opportunity to work with students with physical and developmental challenges, the latter from slight attention disorders to profound autism. Achievements may appear small, but they are significant: a student stays on task and completes a wonderful little masterpiece; children who rarely speak proudly hold up their work and say a few words; children who usually refuse to handle “gooey” stuff like clay, happily participate; those with dexterity issues manipulate clay and handle tools skillfully. That’s where I feel my greatest sense of accomplishment.