Cynthia Weitzel is a Deaf visual artist and resident artist of the Anderson Center for Interdisciplinary Studies (www.andersoncenter.org). Her work involves the entire continuum of visual art media with primary focus on themes relating to the Deaf or minority life experience.
She attended Gallaudet University and University of Minnesota before obtaining her degree in business management and studio fine art from Austin Peay State University in 2000. Prior to making the transition to artist full-time in 2011, she worked 25 years in the nonprofit field serving the Deaf, DeafBlind and Hard of Hearing Community.
Recipient of Minnesotan of the Year Award by Minnesota Association of Deaf Citizens in 2009 and Robert M. Greenmun Memorial Award for leadership excellence by National Association of the Deaf in 2010, she exhibits a long history in life and career devoted to the human, linguistic and cultural rights of all citizens. She has traveled the country extensively while serving as guest speaker or trainer on topics relating to accessibility, American Sign Language, Deaf history, arts and culture.
She founded and twice co-chaired the first and second National Juried De’VIA (Deaf View / Image Art) Competition & Exhibit and played a key role in obtaining multiple Minnesota Historical and Cultural Heritage Grants supporting the preservation of historical landmarks and archives important to Minnesota and national Deaf history. Her most recent collaboration with the Anderson Center led to successfully receiving support from the National Endowment for the Arts to host the first Deaf artists residency program in the U.S. in June of 2014. So successful, the NEA has awarded a second grant for June 2016.
As a Deaf artist, my point of view bears striking resemblance to those artists identifying themselves as belonging to an ethnic, minority or diasporan group whose culture has experienced a history of oppression in the most fundamental of ways. I see the language and process of art as my opportunity to document and reflect the history, life and perspective of our language and culture; also serving as a catalyst for thought and change towards greater understanding and acceptance.
Greatly touched and influenced by the genres of Expressionism, Abstract Expressionism, Social Realism, and De’VIA (Deaf View Image Art), my approach and style – both figurative and abstract – varies greatly pending on the subject of focus at the time. With my work, I am able to continue the development of my visual vocabulary through use of motifs and symbolism commonly recognized and understood by members of Deaf Culture but universal enough to make connections with viewers of any culture to which there are shared collective experiences. Aspects of community oriented art and educational components are important elements of my projects. As well as experimenting with nontraditional materials and different techniques for making art more accessible and engaging.
A few examples of such work are narratives through high relief hand carved ceramic tiles or through screw art 3D painting that provides both a visual and tactile experience for the audience. Or ASL Action Painting where I borrow on the technique of the late abstract expressionist painter, Jackson Pollock - well known for his unique style of drip painting. While Pollock utilized sticks and brushes to create his drip marks, I instead dip my hands into the paint and allow the paint to fly off my fingers onto the canvas while signing American Sign Language (ASL). Each pattern is created using layers upon layers of ASL terms commonly associated with the subject of the piece. ASL Action Painting was born out of my experimenting with different techniques to both document and incorporate my native language into the process of art-making.
Since being invited to join the artist community of Anderson Center for Interdisciplinary Studies in Red Wing, Minnesota, as permanent year-round resident artist in 2011, I have had the benefit of being able to experiment and push boundaries without the pressures of succumbing to outside demands and expectations. The opportunities for support, learning and exchange within this community – and among the visiting artists-in-residence from all parts of the world – has been priceless.
Art itself is a universal language to which many of us relate to, or engage with, in one way or another. But art created through the lens of Deaf life experience is that much more meaningful to us “people of the eye.”