Artist Interviews 2023

Angela Costner  
By Laura Siebold

Angela Costner is an expressionist artist and visual storyteller based in Chicago, Illinois. Angela, who emerged as a painter during the Covid-19 pandemic, has made it her purpose to tell deeply personal stories from a female perspective through art. Angela’s passion for painting and people shows in her strong female portraits of empowerment that are giving a voice to her own and strangers’ feelings. Compassion and observation are very important aspects of her work; her brushstrokes and emotions are inevitably combined and move in unison: “Comparably to a song, where each note lines up to create the perfect melody, the brushstrokes and layers in my work line up to depict the story.” Read on to discover more about Angela’s unique way of storytelling in her interview.

You’ve just recently joined the art world as a professional artist when you started painting during the pandemic. What led up to this moment?

That’s a loaded question. I feel that every previous moment in life has led me to where I am today. My entrance into the art world as a professional artist unfolded after years of unsuccessfully trying to conform to a life that just wasn’t for me. I’ve always been artistic and have always enjoyed creating, but I never thought of art as a way to make a living. It was simply a talent I had. I pursued a business education in college and subsequently spent years in the corporate world. However, my path shifted when I left the corporate world to embrace the role of stay-at-home mom. Still, I wanted something more than just being at home, and after some time I contemplated reentering the corporate world. I was hesitant, though. The thought of reentering the workforce with its politicking and soul-draining hours was far from inviting.

Then the pandemic unfolded, isolating us within our homes, allowing time to accumulate like unspent currency. I was bored out of my mind and randomly began to paint. This creative reawakening was catalyzed during a Zoom call with a friend who was taken aback by my hidden talent. Her words, "You should really do that. You’re good at that – I didn't even know you could paint," resonated within me, amplifying my artistic curiosity.

After a positive response to a jacket, I hand painted for myself, I began painting leather and denim jackets for others. This venture turned into creating commissioned paintings, with portraits and pets becoming my main subjects. Word-of-mouth brought in a steady stream of commissions, filling my days with a rewarding creative rhythm.

Yet, the longing to paint for myself burgeoned within me. Ideas piled up, needing to escape my mind and take shape on canvas, urging me to shift my focus from commissions to personal expression. I found solace in locking myself in my art room and creating for long hours. Nights out with friends came few and far between, as I felt a need to keep pouring myself onto canvas. The opportunity to exhibit at my first art show was serendipitous, arising when I met the chairwoman of an art fest. From there, I was eager to get my work in front of any new eyes that I could. I eagerly embraced any opportunity to showcase my work. And so, my journey as a professional artist began.

Your work addresses thoughts and emotions that no one talks about; you portray both your own and strangers’ private ideas in your work. How do you manage to tell those deeply personal stories through art?

Expressing hidden emotions and personal thoughts through my art has been a journey of discovery. It all began when I started painting my own feelings and thoughts that were stuck inside me. Talking about emotions has never been easy for me, so painting became a way to take something from inside me and put it on the canvas. But as I painted, something interesting happened. I started talking to other women, exchanging stories about our lives. These conversations inspired me to paint their stories, too. Each story became a journey. I would talk to them, ask questions, and really try to understand what they went through. Then, I would imagine myself in their situation, feeling what they felt. Sometimes, the stories were so powerful that I would paint with tears in my eyes.

As my collection grew, I realized that not everyone has experience interpreting art. So, I started adding brief descriptions, which morphed into short stories and poems to complement the paintings. This whole experience wasn't just about the art. It changed me, too. Sharing other people's stories helped me connect with my own feelings. The conversations, the paintings, and everything I created became a journey of growth, connecting with others, and understanding ourselves better through art.

What is the process of creation like for you? Do you need to be in a specific state of mind to create? Please explain in detail.

Creating art is a daily ritual for me, a kind of addiction that I can't resist. It's not just about painting; it's about channeling that creative energy each day. Even if I'm not physically painting, I'm always thinking about it. Ideas float in my mind, and I visualize how I want the final piece to look and feel. So, it's not necessarily about being in a specific mood to start – the urge to create is constant. As I paint, I immerse myself in the stories I'm trying to tell and the emotions I'm portraying. This process can actually shape my mood. I might begin in a great mood, excited to make progress, but if I'm working on a piece that goes into a heavy topic like depression, the act of painting can lead me down a different path. It's almost like stepping into the shoes of the emotion I'm trying to capture. As I immerse myself in the painting's theme, my emotional state might shift.

What is the biggest source of inspiration for you?

My biggest source of inspiration comes from people. It's a universal truth that our lives revolve around the people we interact with – those who fill our days, whether in work, family, or friendship. The impact of these connections is huge; they can either make life feel like heaven or propel it towards hell.

But there's more to it – these people also become my muse. It's amazing how every person is truly unique. Among their diversity lies a beauty that captivates me. I find myself in awe, acknowledging the details that make each person stand out.

The fascination goes beyond the surface; it explores the very core of existence. People watching isn't just a casual activity for me; it plays an important role. As I watch, their features and expressions become etched into my memory. I start to imagine their life's journey – the experiences they’ve had and the challenges they may face. I understand that every person, no matter how uneventful their past has been, will inevitably navigate through life's ups and downs.

How do you manage to express compassion and understanding for women’s life stories in your work?

One of the most impactful compliments I've ever received highlighted the notion that just as Tiger Woods was destined for golf and Kelly Clarkson for singing, I possess a natural ability for conveying stories through my art.

Expressing compassion and understanding in my work begins with the initial conversation. I dedicate myself to hearing every word they utter, and I'm equally attuned to the unspoken words —their tone, body language, and the emotions they convey. My intent is not simply on creating a painting, but on truly comprehending their experiences.

Once they’ve shared their stories, I revisit their words repeatedly. I try to place myself in their shoes, to envision the emotions they've experienced. I ask questions to clarify particular aspects or thoughts. At this point, my mind is full of images. Given the constraints of visual storytelling, I focus on a specific moment where I noted a heightened emotion rather than trying to encapsulate their entire story within a single painting.

I find that my brushstrokes follow the emotion I want to convey. If the story is about grief, I find myself using slow, long brushstrokes. If the story is about triumph, I’ll use bolder colors and shorter, more abrupt brushstrokes. The intent is always to depict an emotion. It is not unlikely for me to completely start over on a painting if it’s not showing the emotion correctly.

You are working on a book titled ‘The Chapters We Don’t Speak About’, a collection of stories you’ve been told by strangers that you are giving a voice through your art. How did this idea for the book come about and when do you expect to publish this work?

The concept for my book, titled 'The Chapters We Don't Speak About' , emerged unexpectedly through my journey of telling women's stories through art. Initially, I was immersed in the process of capturing these stories on canvas, not giving much thought to a book. However, as I showcased my artwork at various shows, I began to include brief descriptions alongside the paintings. My intention was to bridge the gap for those who may not be well-versed in interpreting art, ensuring a deeper connection with my work.

Engaging in conversations with viewers during these exhibitions, I was met with a common response – a genuine curiosity about the stories behind each piece. People expressed an interest in hearing about all the narratives that inspired my artwork. This feedback struck a chord, planting the seed for the idea of a book. The realization that these tales held an intrinsic power to touch hearts and make people feel less alone motivated me to compile the book.

The collection of stories in ‘The Chapters We Don’t Speak About’ were once kept hidden. The book gives these stories voice. As for its anticipated release, mark your calendar for September 1, 2023, when the book is set to be unveiled, allowing these stories to reach a wider audience and continue their impactful journey.

[The interview was conducted prior to the publication of 'The Chapters We Don't Speak About'; note from editor]

What determines the final stroke on each painting? When do you know that the story you tell with your art is completed?

Deciding when a painting is finished involves a mix of feelings and skills. I imagine the painting in my mind before I start any work, a vision of how it will look. Some artists use computer programs or small works to plan out their art, but I prefer to let things unfold naturally as I paint. Similar to a music composer fine-tuning chords and musical lines until a harmony is achieved, I allow my artwork to unfold organically on the canvas. Comparably to a song, where each note lines up to create the perfect melody, the brushstrokes and layers in my work line up to depict the story. There’s a moment during the creation process when everything lines up correctly and it clicks. That’s when you know the story has been communicated.

What has been the most unique experience you’ve had with clients since you started exhibiting your art publicly? Why was this experience meaningful to you?

A close friend, a musician, once mentioned that artists experience emotions more deeply than others. However, I believe emotions touch everyone, though some are able to push them aside to focus on different aspects of life. As an artist, my role involves embracing these emotions, dedicating hours to each feeling as I translate them onto canvas. It’s hard not to become attached to certain pieces when you put so much of yourself into them.

A particular moment that stands out to me was at one of my first art shows. A woman strolled past, her gaze falling across my paintings. One of them caught her eye. The painting told one of my personal stories and was very special to me. She stood there for a good 15 minutes, studying the piece, extracting her own meaning from it, contemplating whether it was the perfect piece for her home. When she decided to buy it, I couldn’t have been happier.

The joy of realizing that I could forge a connection with a stranger through a story I told using paint on canvas is beyond measure. It's moments like these that breathe life into the artistic process, validating my purpose of visual storytelling.

Do you feel that the female artists are being given equal opportunities in telling their stories as male artists?

My role in the art world doesn’t follow the traditional one. My goal is to create art on my own terms. I avoid following the trends and plugging into the art cliques that are similar to corporate politics. Rather than spending my energy focusing on what might be considered unfair or unequal, I prefer to focus on activities that will progress my career.

Historically, opportunities in all aspects have favored men. Although there has been a shift of efforts to represent women and give them equal opportunities more recently, it will take time to realize the results of these efforts.

We are excited about future projects and where we can see your art next. Can you please tell us about your upcoming plans for 2023 and 2024?

I’m wrapping up my last scheduled exhibition at Superfine New York City September 14-17, 2023. As of the current moment, I don't have any particular commitments scheduled for late 2023 or 2024. Typically, my winter months are filled with commissioned work for the Holidays. I'm actively researching art shows and events held in warmer states during the colder months, aiming to expand my presence and connect with diverse audiences. Nonetheless, I'm genuinely eager to embrace any opportunities that might emerge during that period. It's worth noting that the art scene in Chicago tends to be quieter during the winter months, with fewer art shows taking place. However, I'm still open to exploring any potential projects or engagements that come my way.

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