Carolyn Boutwell is a sculptor based in Nashville, Tennessee. Her goal is to capture the moment emotion makes a statement. She processes her own feelings by figuring others out. Beginning in August 2016, Boutwell will be part of an art exhibition at Vanderbilt University where she’ll be utilizing her talents to translate portraits from my first book, Word of Mouth: Nashville Conversations.
What is your favored philosophy?
“Welcome to the human race. We’re all in together.” It indicates why I love capturing the spirit of my subjects.
Where did you grow up?
I was born in North Carolina and moved to New Hampshire at age six.
Have you always been artistic?
As far back as I can remember I’ve always been creative and loved working with my hands. My favorite subject has always been people. I feel most connected to emotions, faces and what makes them tick. I totally missed my calling as a psychologist because I’m great at picking up on little details and why people say the things they do.
Do you feel that’s obvious in your work?
Yes, because I can’t just have a mannequin-like pretty face. If there isn’t a lot going on, then it’s boring to me.
I can almost see your subjects thinking.
There were many stumbling blocks along the way as far as getting the anatomy correct. Once I got that down then the pieces could really say something. As I experienced more and more of life my work deepened.
By putting very personal experiences into your work it will never become stagnant.
If I look at a photograph I want to be moved so I expect the same from my own work. Real life stuff can do that—art doesn’t have to be dramatic. I love photos of Marilyn Monroe when she was unaware of the fact that she was being photographed. There was a distant look on her face because it wasn’t posed. That’s what speaks to me.
You had periods of time where you weren’t practicing art. Why?
I was a fine arts major in college but never graduated because I married young and got pregnant three months later. In school, I naturally gravitated towards traditional techniques, composition and understanding the flow of a piece. Classical art has always been a great framework for me and to this day, I’m an avid learner.
What artists did you admire growing up?
Norman Rockwell was my favorite. My goal was to be a illustrator and he was the ultimate— tons of emotion, detail and realism in his work.
How did you make a living between college and now?
After my family and I moved to Tennessee for my husband’s music career, I got a corporate job at Lifeway where I stayed for 16 years. My soul died during that time because the only art I did was take Alan LeQuire’s sculpting class every once in awhile.
Next you emotionally crashed, which spawned a prolific period as far as your art goes.
I’d suffered from anxiety since I was a little girl. One day my dad said, “You always look worried in pictures.” I had a nervous breakdown right after in 2005. Next, I started cognitive therapy and began to break free of the internal dramas I’d been carrying around for four decades. Then I met a sculptor named Philippe Faraut who became my mentor and friend. Everything shifted because, for the first time, I became serious about my sculpture.
I love that eliminating your anxiety and taking art to the next level were intertwined.
Yes! That’s how I got the life I have right now. I stuck it out at Lifeway for five more years and in 2010 when the company downsized I was out. In 2013, my husband and I separated, which provoked a period of facing my demons. Everything came to a boiling point and my sculpture career really began to blossom.
When was the first time you knew sculpture was your thing?
In college, my professor, Sigmund Abeles said to me, “If that was my first 3-D piece I’d give an arm and a leg for it.” The process made me stand out and shine.
Are you constantly picking up on other people’s vibes and channeling them into your art?
Yes. Being highly-sensitive I totally lock into how people are feeling, which imprints onto my brain.
In this world we can craft our identities so I find it very interesting that you capture the uncensored.
It’s so rewarding to see the “no bullshit,” real version of people. It’s like when you see a badass that still has an eight year-old soft side. It’s their childlike self before it got polluted by this world.
What does it feel like when you’re in the flow?
Something comes alive in my hands, head and heart. The rest of the world falls away. I feel alive and complete.
Do you have a favorite piece?
The Conquering Spirit is Never Crushed, which tells the story of processing out my anxiety. There have been points in my life where I could have lost my mind. It’s the determining point between defeat and perseverance.
What will your legacy be?
My art will touch others and make them think about the significant things in life.
What advice would you give to an emerging artist?
Stay laser focused and figure out where your gift lies. Everyone shines in different ways.