When Christine Finley began attending the University of Missouri-Columbia, working on a law degree, she never realized that one day she would live in Rome and New York and travel the world exhibiting her art. Art that would bring her home for an exhibit, “Girl with a Suitcase,” this month in Kansas City.
Finley, a 1993 Smith-Cotton High School graduate, and the daughter of Jim and Nancy Finley, of Sedalia, felt “a calling” to become a painter while attending MU.
“I switched gears and I applied to art schools,” Finley said Thursday while in Sedalia. “Of course, I wanted to go to New York.”
She was accepted into Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York, and lived there for eight years. She then moved to the Los Angeles area to pursue her masters degree and lived there for four years. Through an odd twist of events, she was invited by friends to Rome to the home of Attilio Vaccari, a fashion designer.
“When I walked into his home it was filled with the most beautiful art I had ever seen in a personal collection,” she said. “He wanted to be a painter when he was younger, and he saw something special in me.”
Vaccari asked her to stay in Rome as an artist-in-residence. Through a business connection he provided a small building next to his property for her as an apartment and studio.
“He said ‘I want you to be a resident of the fashion house, and I want you to live here, but I want you to paint on canvas,’” Finley said. “‘That’s the only stipulation.’”
She moved in across the street and noted that the whole Gai Mattiolo fashion house became her family.
“He was my mentor, he would look at my work and say ‘this is working,’” she said. “He also inspired me to make 20 paintings in a month, which I did by the skin of my teeth.”
Having someone believe in her, to that extent, caused her confidence to grow and she began to see the direction she wanted her work to take in the future. Finley’s paintings soon inspired Vaccari, and he began to paint again.
“He was a great painter when he was younger, but then he started painting (again), so we set him up a studio too,” she noted. “He’s still painting, he has a big studio in his house now.”
While in Italy, she fell in love with Rome.
“Rome, in a way, chose me,” Finley said. “I didn’t have a huge Rome dream … if you would have told me four days before I was living in Rome that I would live in Rome for now eight years, I just couldn’t believe it. It was magic.”
Because Vaccari took her in and gave her direction, Finley paid it forward by sponsoring another student from Los Angeles when he came to Rome.
“I gave him room and board basically for a few years,” she said.
Finley’s art is all about “joy and positivity.” She loves to work with bright colors and she hopes her art brings a vivacity and happiness to those that view the work. This year has been notable and busy. She’s had exhibits in southern France, New York City and now in Kansas City.
Her Kansas City show, “Girl with a Suitcase,” opened Nov. 11 and will run through Dec. 10 at Rockhurst University’s Greenlease Gallery. Earlier this month at Rockhust, Finley and students worked together creating mandalas for the gallery wall.
“We created a lot of work, in the moment, for the Kansas City show,” she said. “We created seven mandalas made out of jewelry. I brought all the jewelry, the kids and I were sorting and creating these shapes.”
The jewelry was placed in resin creating a design. Then the seven mandalas were hung on the wall creating a large Big Dipper. She noted that with all the negativity streaming across the country, she was “literally trying to bring pops of joy” with her art.
“Also, (I was) being that positive force, saying ‘we can do this,’” she added.
Besides the seven mandalas Finley has several pieces in the show that are “brightly colored figurative” paintings. Three are paintings of the eye and two are large “masterwork” paintings, of which is one Rome-related.
“It’s Michelangelo’s ‘Pieta,’ but a totally new twist on that,” Finley said. “The other one is just this sort of really unique painting, with tons of color.”
Finley often paints eyes and is drawn to them because of St. Lucia, of Italy.
“I started investigating inspiration and how people are inspired,” she noted. “One of the things I found is Santa Lucia. She’s the patron saint of vision. One of the things that happened to her was her eyes were taken out … but she could still see, meaning she has intuition.”
She added that her interest is piqued at the thought of intuition, the sixth sense and magic.
“I think Santa Lucia is someone who people call upon when people need to know the answer inside,” Finley said. “I’m interested in how people see, how artists create. What is the lightening? Where does it come from?”
Finley, who said she is a colorist, stated that her eye paintings are somewhat like pop art, they are fun and colorful to create.
After her visiting her family and after the Kansas City show Finley will travel to Los Angeles, New Orleans and Miami.
“I’m really lucky to have such a great family, who support me and help me,” Finley said. “The show in Kansas City, two sections are dedicated, one to my father, and one to my mother.”
To learn more about Christine Finley’s art visit her website, iamfinley.com or on Instagram @iamfinley. Her exhibit “Girl with a Suitcase” will run through Dec. 10. at Rockhurst University’s Greenlease Gallery, near the Plaza. The gallery is open from noon to 5 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday or by appointment. For an appointment or more information, call Gallery Director Anne Pearce at 816-501-4407 or email [email protected]
Faith Bemiss can be reached at 530-0289 or on Twitter @flbemiss.