The artist: Cynthia Scarlett |

The artist: Cynthia Scarlett

What is your career and your current job title? The answer is unequivocally “artist.” As is true for many artists, I have done a variety of other things over the years to pay the rent – roulette dealer, muralist, waitress, housekeeper, art framer. Right now I am an instructor at the Neighborhood Center of the Arts, a fabulous place where artists with developmental disabilities come to produce amazing art and display it for sale all throughout the year.

Describe in a sentence or two your art. My art deals with psychological and psychic states, the semiunconscious, primitive impulses, night dreams, neurosis, sexuality and birth and death, with a touch of humor to leaven the mix. I’m fascinated with the human mind and motives. Stylistically, I’m a sophisticated primitive.

How long have you been working in this discipline? I have been making art since I could hold a crayon.

Why do you do it? Because of an irresistible urge to make and express beauty. I am its slave. I often wish I could stop caring about this urge and not need to do its bidding (it’s often inconvenient) but I cannot. When I try to ignore this urge it gets sublimated into other activities like gardening, cleaning, moving the objects around in my house for a more pleasing effect or dressing myself in new ways.

What do you hope to accomplish? At this point I don’t think about that much. I once had grand dreams, but now I am a contented realist.

Do you create your art with an exact message you want the viewer to receive and if yes, what is that message? My message is that we are strange and terrible and wonderful creatures, and isn’t this whole business of life interesting? Consider, alphabetically: ambition, birth, compassion, dreams, envy, family, greed, heart, intelligence, jealousy, killing, love, money, night, openings, parents, quitting, romance, sex, trust, unexplained phenomena, victory, wanting, xenophobia, youth and zealots.

Where do you want to be with your art, in terms of part-time versus full-time status, art positions and where your works are seen? I would love to have almost nothing else to do but make art. And I would want to have my work shown at the very best, most exclusive galleries in the world. I would love to teach art, no matter what. That would be living my dream: making a good living doing what I adore.

What kind of special training did you take? I earned a B.A. and an M.F.A., and my father was an art teacher, so I spent a few special, very formative years on his lap. He gave me high standards.

Do you consider it hard work and could anyone do it? I consider this a very hard work, especially if you believe that speaking in your own unique, never-before-heard-voice is your job. Very hard.

Any other comments you’d like to include? I encourage everyone to come and see the “Foundations” exhibition at the Neighborhood Center of the Arts, featuring the work of a talented group of instructors who make it possible each day for artists with developmental disabilities to also explore the creative process.

Neighborhood Center of the Arts supports more than 50 artists with developmental disabilities. The art of NCA instructors, including Cynthia Scarlett’s, can be seen in the upcoming exhibition, “Foundations: An Exhibition of Art by the Faculty of NCA,” running from April 7 to 22. NCA’s studio and gallery is at the rear of 200 Litton Drive, Grass Valley, opposite Sierra College. Call 272-7287 for more information.

To recommend a creative talent for this weekly feature, contact Pam Jung at or 477-4232.

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