Artist Spotlight: Cael Neary

For senior and studio art major Cael Neary, art is a way to express how we feel and discuss topics that may be uncomfortable to discuss when using words. Currently, they are working on large-scale graphic art and focusing on a consistent style that is also recognizable.

In keeping a strict color palette of pink, blue, yellow and white, Neary has mirrored the crisp line and vibrant colors of other paintings within the same series of self-portraits. They admit that this style is not something that they did seriously before, since it is easy to feel uncomfortable about the way that one looks. “Painting yourself feels kind of narcissistic to me, [and] I don’t like that aspect of it,” they commented, while also sharing, “Doing self-portraits is a way to kind of make yourself feel beautiful when you don’t otherwise. I guess it’s been a sense of trying to like my body and who I am and what I look like…my gender identify especially is a topic that I’ve been painting about and thinking about.”

The four-foot by five-foot canvas Neary is currently working with is part of an independent study towards their senior experience. Under the instruction of Frederick R. Layton Professor of Art and Associate Professor of Art Rob Nielsen, Neary is focusing on acrylic paints and the large canvas, described as a “sort of continuation of paintings [they have] been working on since last winter that have been centering around gender and sexuality.” The painting consists of a bright white bathtub filled to the brim with green fish, inspired by a professor who commented, “that’s a whole other kettle of fish.” Neary noted, “the image that sort of popped into my head was a bathtub full of fish,” even though it both is and is not that. Influences for art come from what people have said, and what they are reading, watching or even thinking about at the time. Although sometimes there does not seem to be an initial theme to the art, Neary explained the intricate planning and manipulation of different pictures and sketches on Photoshop before sitting down in front of a blank canvas.

For Neary, experimenting with and discovering new mediums is important. In working across different techniques and styles such as pen and ink, sketching, acrylic paints and silk screen print-making, they said, “Medium changes, and it is sort of what I want to do at the time, or how I want to get the message across.” In doing so, Neary has tried many different kinds of art making, and they received a senior experience scholarship to cover a two-week jewelry course at Haystack Mountain School of Crafts in Maine this past summer. “Even though I’ve never done jewelry before, [Haystack] taught me a lot about small metals and work that I’ve never done. It makes me think of how I’m doing them, about technique and about slowing down,” they shared. Working with a new set of materials and in a new environment helped Neary learn about the medium of jewelry making, especially since the studio-based workshops at the art school helped artists to really focus in and learn more about the technique and style behind their craft.

Even for non-artists, Neary suggests being exposed to different fields of study and taking classes. “I have taken classes in a broad range of subjects because I think that what else I’m seeing and doing and hearing and learning in my life really informs what I’m doing,” Neary stated. This term, for example, Neary chose to take a feminist theory course because, “I really think that all of those readings and actually having the historical substance and knowledge behind them—like things that I’m thinking about with gender and sexuality—is really good to have.” Going to events that they would not have normally gone to and talking to people has helped Neary better understand the connections of art-making to the rest of their life, both at and outside of Lawrence. To see what Neary has been working on, their finished art will be showcased with other senior art majors’ work at the Senior Art Show Reception on Friday, May 26 during Spring Term.