“Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life” – Pablo Picasso
Fiona Craig specializes in florals, landscapes, and portraits in oils, acrylics, watercolors, pastels, and mixed media. Her floral artworks are vibrant and dramatic, with a realistic, three-dimensional quality, yet a painterly technique. Landscapes range from “contemporary realism inspired by Impressionism”, as Fiona describes her general style, to the semi-abstract. Her portraits are very realistic in order to portray a close resemblance to the subject. Pastel or mixed media (pastel over watercolor) portraits tend to be softer, while those painted in oils have a stronger presence.
Fiona grew up in an artistic family in the Blue Mountains, west of Sydney, Australia, which is now a UNESCO World Heritage listed site. Her father, Allan Craig, was an architect and her mother, Alison, a fiber artist and craftsperson who conducted non-profit art groups for children for eighteen years. Her brother, Bruce, studied photography and is currently growing a new business in the renovation and upholstery of vintage and antique furniture. Both the family interest in the arts (which began during in the arts and crafts revival of the 1960s and ’70s) and the local natural environment greatly influenced Fiona’s art making.
From childhood, Fiona attended art and craft workshops and institutions, gaining art awards and completing commissions along the way. Her most intensive training was in drawing, which she regards as the foundation of most good art, even abstract. Much later on, to ’round off’ her education, she completed a Bachelor of Arts degree majoring in History and Literature.
Fiona has held art workshops and regular classes for many years instructing adults and children. Classes for children tend to be non-academic, offering a variety of techniques for children to experience materials and techniques: skill-building with fun! Adult’s classes are more academic, with instruction in techniques and application with the aim of both developing skills and individual styles.
Fiona has had many solo exhibitions and participated in group shows. Her artworks are in private and corporate collections worldwide.
Fiona feels that an education across the arts has helped her give more depth, understanding, and meaning to her artworks. For instance, the close ties between literature and fine art meant that one often inspired the other. “While paintings can indeed ‘speak’ on their own merits, elucidates Fiona, “the insights gained by studying various arts and societies in history provides extra dimensions. An example in my own art is my ‘Tulipomania’ series, which alludes to a time when tulips were fervently collected at exorbitant prices. To reflect this phenomenon, I intend my tulip paintings to be larger-than-life, spectacularly gorgeous and opulent.”
Although Fiona has developed her own styles with time and practice, she acknowledges the influence of many artists. Favorite ‘past masters’ include Rembrandt, Vermeer, Mary Cassatt, Edgar Degas, Berthe Morisot, Clause Monet, John Singer Sargent, and Georgia O’Keeffe. Influential Australian artists include Arthur Streeton, Margaret Preston, and Margaret Olley. Fiona believes it is important to regularly visit art museums and galleries to view artworks ‘in the flesh’.
Teaching art has been an important component of the artist’s life. It is a rewarding experience that not only passes on skills to others but helps the artist to work out and develop her own ideas. Fiona hopes to continue providing art classes to children and adults in Chicago.
A Chicago local for over five years, Fiona explains that “living in the USA and Australia provides me diverse inspirations to paint the natural environments and the interesting floral subjects and scenes that the nature preserves, conservatories, and botanical gardens have to offer. The distinct seasons in the US are spectacular and extreme, but I also enjoy the subtlety and uniqueness of the Australian bush-land that I have a lifelong attachment to.
“The American landscape offers a wide range of subjects from the sublime (awe-inspiring with an exhilarating or terrifying edge, according to Burkhardt’s theory) to the beautiful (picturesque, tranquil). Think of The Grand Canyon or Niagara Falls (sublime), or a spring blossom on the prairie (beautiful). Those I most enjoy at present are colorful autumn scenes with water, or bleak, snow-frosted trees” says Fiona. “There are some wonderful spots around Chicagoland, and I greatly appreciate the efforts of conservationists to nurture the Midwest ecosystems. Another favorite subject, featuring a mindful design integrating landscape architecture and nature, is the Alfred Caldwell Lily Pool at Lincoln Park. Human-made garden environments are also fascinating to me. The Chicago Botanic Garden is a particularly abundant source of inspiration, with its seasonal flowers and picturesque scenes.
“My current direction in floral works features large close-ups that have a more abstract, surreal sense of composition and form that the eye of the viewer can wander through. One new series, ‘Floralscapes’, alludes to the undulating, turbulent and flowing forms and features of landscapes and seascapes. These paintings also, to me, resemble the silky shapes and folds of fabrics such as a flamenco dancer’s swirling skirts.
“My art career began with portrait drawing and commissions, and I continue to enjoy the capturing of likenesses and subtle expressions. The diversity and positive attributes of humanity are fascinating. Portrait work provides not only an artistic challenge to depict a face, but also involves the interesting experience of becoming acquainted with a personality and spirit.
“It interests me to hear an art viewer’s interpretations and personal preferences for certain pieces of my art, as everyone has their subjective feelings and associations with a subject. This feedback is not merely to ascertain how popular an artwork is, but – as art making is such a solitary profession — to build connections between artist and society.”