Return to site

In First Person: Taryn Gilligan

By Taryn Gilligan

Taryn responded to our open-ended prompt to reflect on her personal journey as an artist.

I’ve never quite understood why it’s always been so difficult to talk about, not to mention share my art with other people. Perhaps the reason I find it so hard to verbalize is because I’m painfully aware that my story, how I “became an artist” is complex, riddled with contradictions, and with answers to questions I still don’t fully understand myself.

broken image

I never grew up wanting to be an artist, nor did I come from a family of artists. I wasn’t one of those kids who spent all their time in art class and art club after school. I was having way more fun fooling around, picking off the Elmer’s glue off my fingers with friends than I ever did making whatever macaroni paper plate designs they had us create in elementary school. Don’t get me wrong, I was never anti-art, it just meant something entirely different for me.

Looking back, art was always a deeply personal experience for me.

Art was coming home from a day full of school, soccer practice, and homework to then go upstairs to my room to paint. Art was sitting with my grandmothers at their sewing tables or kneeling next to a big quilt learning to put the pieces together to create something not only beautiful, but this special piece made with love for something they cared about. It was going to the craft store with my mom on a warm summer night picking up scrapbooking supplies so that we “could get into scrapbooking” (though we never really did). Art was going out to dinner with my dad on the rare night he wasn’t working and doodling silly cartoons on the back of the paper menus.

Art was a way for me to learn from and connect with the people who mattered the most. Art was carefree and silly, it was making friendship bracelets and sarcastic finger paintings about inside jokes with friends. Art was getting lost in my thoughts and following wherever my imagination led without the fear of being judged. Art was a place where I could be most authentically myself while showing people I care about them in the most genuine way that I knew how.

As I’ve gotten older, my art and the place it holds in my life has evolved with me.

In that evolution, a lot of life has been lived and a lot has changed. The past ten years have been this battle of facing and overcoming obstacles regarding my health. From traumatic brain injuries to chronic illness and the anxiety that stems from these health conditions, it’s been difficult. Through this journey of overcoming my adversities, I’ve been trying to put back the pieces of the life it feels like I lost.


As I’ve had to grow up and change with my experiences, so has my art. Growing up I found myself really turned off by abstract art. Being a person who thrives off of organization, strategy, and order, I couldn't resonate with these pieces that felt busy, chaotic, and haphazard. Being this person who sees art as this very personal experience, seeing abstract works like a urinal installation... I just couldn’t see how that could be considered art.

I, the very person who struggles to share or even talk about their work with others, ironically decided to go to college for architecture and interior design. Having spent two years in design school, and learning and harnessing my art fundamentals, I unsurprisingly lost my creative drive.

It wasn't until five years later when I was going through one of the most difficult times of my life that I felt compelled to start creating again. During this time, I faced overwhelming anxiety and daily panic attacks. With that feeling of chaos and loss of control I was drawn to start painting again... as it was one of the only ways I was able find relief.

The Magic in the Mess

Through this experience there has been an obvious evolution with my painting style. My work has grown with me as I've allowed myself the space and freedom to explore my own personal development, which is what inspired this new style of painting. With my anxiety, this new way of painting allowed me to turn it all off and just be. Working with acrylics, water, and pouring medium was this fluid and organic process, making all the pieces completely unique in their own way.

In adopting this new style of painting, I found solace in pouring and pushing the paint around the canvas, using my whole body and rarely using brushes and never going into a painting with expectations or judgment. That's when it clicked for me. That's when I finally understood the beauty and intrigue that others have found in abstract art for years. I began to see magic in the mess…and that has become the soul of my work.

broken image

I often hear people say that my paintings remind them of the oceans, glaciers, and galaxies. They’ll tell me these anecdotes from these special moments in their lives that my paintings take them back to. Knowing that my work can elicit such happy memories for others… I can’t even begin to describe to you how much joy it brings me. I always get people asking me about my process, or why blue? What does this mean? Did you plan them to look this way?

And the answer is always no. It’s this very subconscious, intuitive experience. Truth is, I don’t know what they mean… I don’t know why they look that way but I know how they make me feel. And I think what is so special is that art for me even after all these years is still this really special experience where I can just be myself while also connecting with other people.

For a girl who never grew up wanting to be an artist, I accidentally became one… or moreso I finally embraced the artist I always was. So what does art mean to me now? Art is still silly and light-hearted. Art is still this beautiful way to connect with others and show them you care. Art is still this place for transparency and self expression. But most importantly, art is this place for growth and healing…embracing who you are and finding that magic within the mess.

broken image

This is part of a series called In First Person, in which digital natives respond to an open-ended writing prompt.