Community Over Competition: Thoughts on FEM Rising July 2021
By Karen Garinger
Dani Gray’s new exhibit, FEM Rising, focuses on the power of the divine feminine. It incorporates imagery, Dani says, that she hopes will inspire all women and feminine-presenting people, regardless of gender, to realize the beauty and power that rests within, and will encourage them to reach out to one another, because, she says, “we are stronger together.” With FEM Rising, Dani wants to encourage women to shake off cultural restraints and unite to find their power.
Dani observes that women are nurturers, caretakers/givers, and often unsung heroes. “Despite the amazing power that women wield, we have been taught to take up as little room as possible, to be silent, and to compare ourselves with unrealistic beauty norms and even each other,” she says.
The inspiration for FEM Rising came from a conversation that Dani had with another artist at Collective Visions during change-out day, when members install their new works for the month. The piece that sparked the conversation was the one titled “Inside,” featured in this show. “She asked me about the darkness and anger that came from this piece,” Dani recalls. “I described feeling frustrated and upset with my own body. She encouraged me to revisit that piece, to dig deeper. Over the next months, I dabbled with the idea privately when I would sit down to play with paint. It grew and evolved.”
Though always drawn to making and creating, Dani began taking painting more seriously in 2014, after a series of personal tragedies left her looking for ways to cope. “Art has helped me heal and focus,” she says. “It has given me a refuge.”
Introspection and determination are key to Dani’s creative approach. “I strongly believe that the idea that you are ‘born’ an artist is bullshit,” she says. “Everyone has that power within them; you just have to foster it. Find the kind of art/making that speaks to you, and practice.”
Heeding one’s internal truths can be the most profound source of confidence, she says, far more valuable than the critical voices of others. The words of author Brené Brown on this matter resonated with Dani when she heard Brown say this: “A lot of cheap seats in the arena are filled with people who never venture onto the floor. They just hurl mean-spirited criticisms and putdowns from a safe distance. The problem is, when we stop caring what people think and stop feeling hurt by cruelty, we lose our ability to connect. But when we’re defined by what people think, we lose the courage to be vulnerable. Therefore, we need to be selective about the feedback we let into our lives. For me, if you’re not in the arena also getting your ass kicked, I’m not interested in your feedback.”
Dani adds, “I am an intuitive artist, and that means that when I’m stressed or overworked, it’s hard for me to find the inner voice or instinct that guides my process.” Her advice to all artists facing this challenge: “It’s so important for us to take care of ourselves, to know our boundaries, and be firm with them. Learn what makes you feel ‘fed’ and do it! Guard it. Nurture it.”
In the current collection, Dani has stepped outside of her comfort zone and tried new techniques, new colors, new media. “Some haven’t worked. A lot haven’t worked,” she notes. “But I just painted over them and kept trying.”
FEM Rising is an especially important show to Dani. “It focuses on the raw power within,” she says. “When we support our neighbors rather than comparing, when we work together, when we build a community, we are unstoppable. We don’t need more prejudice or gatekeepers; we need more team players and support systems.”
In all of her work, Dani employs a variety of media and focuses on deep-toned, textural abstracts. Each piece’s assortment of layers and hues is intended to achieve a sense of ambiance influenced by the beauty of the Pacific Northwest.
“Art should be a collaboration between the artist and the collector, which is why many of my pieces appear unsigned,” Dani says. (The pieces are all signed on the back.) And there is no “right” way to display her works, she says. “When you purchase a piece of abstract art, you should hang it in the way that most speaks to you.”
The pieces in the collection range in price from $20 to $648. The largest piece, “Inner Reef,” measures 24” x 36” and incorporates a variety of media. The collection itself features watercolor, oils, cold wax, acrylics, and even a tiny bit of weaving. “It’s important to me that there’s a range in cost because affordable art is a necessity,” Dani says. “Art belongs to everyone.”