By Jim Roberts
Crizti Walsh has spent many of her nights and weekends the last two and a half years painting an eclectic bunch of characters. Among them: a trapeze artist, a voodoo priestess, a woman with progeria and a Tanzanian albino.
She said that painting these people—and creating individual backstories for them—is cathartic.
“It’s kind of like when you’re talking to somebody,” she explained. “When I’m sitting there painting, I know the bare bones of them, but as I’m painting, I start seeing their personality emerge. It actually makes me giggle. I get really excited when I start seeing this person coming into fruition and their story kind of laying out.”
While the stories are an important part of her creative process, Walsh acknowledged that people often see different things in her work. Take, for example, her painting of a “world weary” man titled, “There’s No Place Like Homeless.” “Some people look at him, and they’re like, ‘He’s a seaman! He’s on a ship!’” she said. “That’s all part of people’s interpretation. … I can name them, and I can say where they came from in my mind, but if somebody else wants to take something else from it … then it’s cool.”
Walsh will share about 30 of her paintings in “The Babble That We Think We Mean,” which opens on Aug. 25 at Gallery 21 in Norfolk. “I’m still pinching myself about it,” she said of her first solo art show. “It’s going to be overwhelming. I already know that when I go in and see all of my stuff hanging, it’s probably going to be really kind of emotional.”
Walsh took up painting because she was looking for “new and different ways of having some fun” after her two daughters grew up and moved out on their own. An earlier attempt to front a band, Crissy Babe and the Dastards, convinced her that she didn’t like being in the spotlight, but after painting her ukulele and a few other instruments, she learned about Tidewater Arts Outreach and its annual Instruments Of Art fund-raiser.
“When I saw that,” she said, “I was like, ‘Holy cow! That’s awesome.’”
She entered for the first time in 2015 and has won the top prize in two of the last three years.
In the meantime, she has been adding characters to her oeuvre, creating them with acrylic paint and crackle paste on pieces of “found” wood.
Walsh has no formal training beyond a single art class in high school, but she said she comes from “an extremely creative and artistic” family. When she decided to start painting in earnest, what she didn’t already know, she learned from watching YouTube videos. And while she admitted that her technique is getting better over time, she said with a strong dose of self-deprecation that some of her work is still “ugly and awkward.”
“I can always look at stuff and see things that I would do differently,” she said, “but I’m also a fan of not editing yourself too much. … I think that things that are imperfect and maybe unfinished kind of have merit too.”
In fact, Walsh is reluctant to even call herself an artist. “It’s the same thing like with playing music,” she said. “I had a hard time saying, ‘I’m a musician.’ … I don’t necessarily say, ‘I’m an artist.’ But I like to paint.”
MaryAnn Toboz, the executive director of Tidewater Arts Outreach and an early fan of Walsh’s visual art, dismisses any suggestion of humility, saying emphatically: “You have arrived, Crizti!”
Gallery 21 will host an opening reception for “The Babble That We Think We Mean” from 6-9 p.m. Aug. 25. It is free and open to the public. For more information about the show, visit: gallery21norfolk.com.