Photos by Elizabeth Ervin
Raven Roxanne is an abstract and impressionist painter based in Charleston, South Carolina. Her work, particularly her abstractions of birds and their tangled nests, is evocative in its sparseness and surprising in color.
This past August, Raven retreated from her city life by taking a self-imposed artist residency in the mountains of North Carolina.
She slept in a wilderness cabin overlooking the Hungry River and a bubbling stream, and painted by the sounds of birdsong and flowing water.
We were interested to know more about Raven’s work, and what this residency in a remote studio did to break her routine and open her creative process.
Two years ago I went to France to paint and I still think about the things I learned painting remotely. Getting outside of my studio always creates new challenges that I learn from. I was ready for a little break from my every day and to see things with new eyes.
I’ve always lived at the beach, never the mountains, so I was drawn to the idea of doing a residency in the mountains. Most importantly, I really wanted to bring my dog, Willie. Traditionally residencies don’t usually allow animals, hence the self-imposed residency.
I was ready for a little break from my every day and to see things with new eyes.
During my days in the mountains, I woke up around 8am (which is sleeping in for me) and would have really slow mornings with coffee and breakfast on the porch.
After breakfast I would paint a daily bird drawing. These drawings were really unique and special to me. I released them before my residency and each bird drawing came with a little note I wrote about that day of the residency. The people who reserved a piece had no idea what bird they’d get! I liked having the ritual practice of the daily drawing to start to loosen up. Then I would go on a run, do yoga or walk along the river.
After a long lunch, I would paint the rest of the afternoon. Around 5pm I would walk to the river and go skinny dipping. Then, I ended each day with a long home-cooked meal. I wanted to take time to be nourished. I baked, had lots of yummy roasted vegetables, frittatas, good stuff that warms you.
The biggest difference from my normal life is that it was a lot slower. Also, staying in one space was different. I’m usually buzzing around town from my house to the studio. It was nice to stay grounded.
Jokingly, I’ve been telling friends I came back with 4 takeaways: The feeling of safety is a privilege, being naked outside is a luxury, if you look at anything long enough it looks like a snake, and being alone is overrated.
What I learned is still unfolding…
When I reflect seriously, I’m bringing back with me the security of knowing that I could do it—be alone, stay out in the woods in a remote cabin, and be around a lot of snakes (which going into it was a big fear). I saw 7 while I was there.
What I learned is still unfolding… Within painting, I learned to break up the painting in a new way. Before my retreat my bird paintings had a lot of color blocks, now they are layery. I started to look through the forest instead of above it.
Yes, I think each piece has a story. There’s one that has yellow and purple, inspired by the butterflies. Another has a snake, from one I saw (that I named Angelina). I also saw a pileated woodpecker and you’ll see he made an appearance in another of my pieces.
I’m starting to think more about the story and personal experience of the birds I’m painting.