By Gina Malone
For Cheyenne Trunnell, an Asheville painter of ethereal landscapes, art has meant a lifetime of self-discovery and spiritual awakening through communion with the natural world. “Nature has always been, and always will be, my preference for church,” she says. “It is my sanctuary.”
As a child, the outdoors always beckoned. Favorite memories, she recalls, are “playing in the dirt, digging in the garden with my grandfather or building forts in the woods.” Even today, she says, “I love to sit and watch the light dance upon the leaves, listen to the wind flowing through the trees and just be still.”
Seeing abstract art for the first time when she was 12 set her on a course for becoming the artist she is today. “As a teenager, art was how I expressed the angst of adolescence.” Her first completed works were two watercolor landscapes she created in 1992.
In college, she focused on painting and psychology, and hiked often. “I always carried my journal and oil pastels to capture the trees, the paths through the woods, the reflections in the water and the light of the sky.” Discouraged from painting landscapes by professors who did not consider them “real art,” she painted mostly abstracts.
“Once I graduated,” she says, “I immediately set out to find my voice and my style in landscape paintings. I constantly painted trees and looked at art trying to combine all that I loved with my purpose for painting.” Her discovery of German-born American artist Wolf Kahn inspired her. “I was so excited to see that he was a living, working artist succeeding at painting trees.”
After obtaining a master’s degree in art therapy from George Washington University, Trunnell was able to combine her loves of art and psychology. “My first internship was working with inner-city kids from D.C. and, as I worked with troubled youth, my art became my own personal therapy.”
Exploring the woods with Philip Trunnell, who would eventually become her husband, led her to Asheville. “He always loved running off into the woods to chase a sense of peace with me,” she says. “We would look at a map and go on an adventure to find a waterfall almost every weekend in college.”
They were still living in Washington when they married in front of a waterfall in Asheville. “Within two years of being married, we decided we would like to escape the hectic pace of D.C. and we landed in East Asheville where we have lived since 2004.” They now have two sons, 11 and nine years old. “My goal at the moment,” she says, “is to find balance between my family life and my painting career.”
Discipline helps with that. “I am always creative. I don’t believe in waiting for the inspiration to hit. I take myself into the studio for at least four to five hours a day when my children are in school. Even if I am not sure what I am going to work on next, I can be sketching, cleaning the workspace and thinking about colors.”
When her grandfather died in 2008, the healing qualities of art came to her aid. “As my grief dug in deep, I began painting all my memories of the lake with my grandfather. It seemed everything I painted was a search for a memory of him and I once again found my art to be my therapy.”
After two years of grieving and painting, she says, she found that she wanted her art to be a healing force for others as well. “My goal for my art became to bring a sense of God’s light into the viewer’s home,” she says, “to capture the peace and stillness found in nature and explore ways to convey the ethereal light within my paintings. I had found my style and my voice as an artist and, at my crossroads, I found my purpose.”
Trunnell draws inspiration from many notable artists. “I have always been drawn to the Impressionism of Monet in the sense of capturing the essence of a place and not necessarily the details. I love the moody skies of Turner, the trees of Wolf Kahn and Cézanne, the tonal depth of Whistler and Inness, the spirit and passion of Frankenthaler and O’Keeffe, the lines of simplicity of Ellsworth Kelly and the expressions of Joan Mitchell.”
She recently began painting with oils again after years of using acrylics. “It has been like finding a long-lost friend,” she says. “I am very drawn to high contrast paintings because it allows me to capture and place emphasis on the ethereal light. I love to zoom in to a composition where I have been capturing the distant view and look at it from different angles.”
She finds today that her pursuits and passions have culminated in this moment. “My love of nature, my constant searching to be in the presence of God and my art therapy degree have all combined to form my creative process.”
To see more of Cheyenne Trunnell’s work, visit her studio on the second floor of The Wedge at 129 Roberts Street in the River Arts District or her website at cheyennetrunnell.com. Her work will be exhibited at the Tyler White O’Brien Gallery in Greensboro beginning October 5 in a show with fellow artist Molly Courcelle titled Flourish. Follow her on Instagram (@cheyennetrunnell) where she posts daily updates on the process of painting at her studio.