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Natural Awakenings Tucson

The Courage to Create: Gavin Troy

Jul 31, 2017 11:10PM ● By Carolyn King

“Why is creativity so difficult? And why does it require so much courage?”
~ Rollo May

Psychologist Rollo May posed these eternal questions in his book, The Courage to Create, published over 40 years ago. May’s exploration into the relationship between existential courage and creativity shines a light, as relevant today as it was back then, on the delicate balance between feeling secure and feeling free when we engage in acts of creative practice. He reminds us that: “Creativity coming from the preconscious and the unconscious is not only important for art, poetry and music, but is essential, in the long run, for our science.”

Rollo May, were he alive today in Tucson, would have been a devoted fan of the life and work of contemporary artist, Gavin Troy. As a kid growing up in Tempe, Troy got hooked on the emerging skateboard path while in elementary school. Talking about the passion of his youth and teen years, he frequently uses words like “freedom” and “letting go”. The early skateboard enthusiasts were seen as outsiders, rebels and those pushing the cultural envelope. As a painter of lyrical, meditative, non-representational “inner landscapes”, Troy is a man of immense courage who has dedicated himself to living a creative life.

What brought you to the path of becoming a visual artist?

In high school, while I was deeply into skating, I took classes in photography and wood shop. The world of photography opened up my vision and making things in shop fueled something inside. What I learned in wood shop connected directly to my skating passion. Back then, we designed and constructed structures and surfaces to ride on and inside of. It was like making sculptures to skate with.

How are skating and painting similar and different for you?

Skating and painting both involve being able to let go and be totally in the flow of the moment. Both involve opening up to experience true freedom. On a skateboard, it’s like you are carving invisible lines through space. In the studio, by choosing to open my mind, it feels like exploring the unknown world inside. Both painting and skating are non-verbal forms of communication.

The biggest difference between the two is the physicality. With skating, your entire body is engaged and involved. In my studio practice, movement is physically minimal, but wide open in the mind.

Where does your imagery come from?

I am constantly inspired by both what I see around me and the forms and colors within my mind. I am constantly drawing in a sketchbook to keep the flow open, so to speak. Sometimes, if I’m not feeling connected to “the Source” in the studio, I will look at my sketches as a springboard to start to work. I usually work on several pieces simultaneously moving back and forth between paintings. In this way, the work becomes a sort of a dialogue between the pieces.

I am inspired by several sources like folk art and other non-Western traditions. Textiles influence me a lot. I get inspiration from other contemporary artists, friends whose work I admire and personal favorites from art history, as well.

Over the past 10 to 15 years, you have devoted much creative time and energy to working as a teaching-artist with children and teens. Can you talk about both gifts and challenges related to teaching and how this work affects your studio practice?

A balance between creative time in the studio and teaching has become a way of working and being creative. I love to teach especially young children who are still so open and free with their creativity. The challenge has been to maintain a balance between teaching and my studio practice. At this point, I am choosing to teach less. I prefer smaller groups now over public classroom settings. I also work one-on-one with a few private students in my studio.

Recently, it seems you have become much more visible in the local arts community and beyond. Is there anything in particular that has sparked your increased visibility?

My son’s birth pushed me to open up and believe more in what has been coming through in my life. I feel such gratitude to be able to share my passion for being creative with him as well as with community.

How do you feel your studio practice serves as a tool for your personal healing and for the healing of the larger community?

Over the past several years, I have learned so much about the power of mindset. As a substitute teacher at Tucson High for nine years, I learned how to shift my mind so that instead of feeling confined, I experienced the job as a gift. I was able to take the structure of discipline from that setting and apply it directly to my studio practice. I was able to feel freedom within structure at school and conversely, to bring structure to the free-flow of my creative work in the studio. The healing has been to understand how much mindset affects how I feel and thus how I am in the world.

On the one hand, both painting and skating are healing paths toward a sense of true freedom. On the other hand, with structure like a committed timeframe for studio practice, I am able to get the most out of that state of being that connects me directly to my inner freedom. It’s a bit of a paradox; freedom springing from structure has been a revelation.

Gavin Troy’s work can be enjoyed in August at 5 Points Market and Restaurant, 756 S. Stone Ave., in Tucson. Connect with Troy at [email protected].

Carolyn King, M.A. in Arts & Consciousness, is a local practicing artist who has worked as a teaching-artist for over 30 years. She launched Heart to Hand Studio in Tucson, where she offers classes and workshops in a variety of visual media for children, teens and adults. Connect at [email protected] or

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