ally Crilly

The subject of one of the paintings of Ridgway artist, Ally Crilly, stares frankly into the viewer’s eyes. The opening reception for a show of her latest work, “Fluctuations” takes place at Trace Gallery in Ridgway tonight (Friday) from 6-8 p.m. (Photo courtesy of Ally Crilly)

Ally Crilly’s art is a constant exploration of the deep and the dark. It’s a journey that demands fearlessness and curiosity with a healthy dose of humor. Her latest paintings will be celebrated in an opening reception tonight (Friday) at Trace Gallery in Ridgway from 6-8 p.m.

Crilly’s art took a turn for the deep in 2008 when, looking to alleviate the “boredom” and “lack of satisfaction” in her creative life, she took a painting class from Robert Weatherford. It changed her direction in the very best of ways.

“He gave me permission to prioritize art in my life,” Crilly said. “He taught me to go deep and keep going deeper. He said, ‘don’t be afraid of the dark.’”

Taking his thoughtful guidance to heart, her work took on a new depth and purpose. Weatherford also opened her eyes to what beauty in art can be.

“Pretty comes easy,” Crilly said. “Robert showed me the difference between pretty and beautiful.”

And beautiful often means dark. That’s where her fearlessness comes into play.

Crilly has followed her Muse down numerous paths. Her fascination with elephants marked one phase as she painted empathetic and loving portraits of pachyderms. Her brilliant flowers, jubilantly arranged in vases, are nothing short of color-saturated odes, and her portraits — some self-portraits, others the result of deep-in-the-pocket creative output — can be at once haunting, quizzical and inviting.

“I go into those with a lack of expectation,” she said. “I just see what happens. Someone shows up in a portrait that will make me wonder, ‘Who are you?’”

Her popular flower series are works that have the ability to sustain her.

“When I’m struggling, they carry me through,” Crilly noted.

Trace Gallery’s Andy Nasisse describes her work with an artist’s insight.

“Ally’s paintings are vibrant, deeply felt, and emotionally complex explorations of self and still life, modeled onto and into the picture plane with exuberant color and psychological intensity,” he said. “They are celebrations of life, paint, abstraction, and the act of painting.”

Nasisse’s advice for her show was “do whatever you want.” She used the opportunity to tap into the frazzled energy of the world of late.

“I got tired of painting flowers,” and off she went into portraits.

Weatherford propped open the door to darkness for her, and that unexpected profundity reveals itself in her latest series of portraits, characters that stare frankly into the viewer’s eyes.

“They (the people who revealed themselves to her brush) look bewildered and dumbfounded; the way I’ve felt these last few years,” Crilly said. “But distress and pain is beautiful, too.”

And when she turned that focus inward, there were discoveries to be made.

“A self-portrait is a self-exploration,” she explained. “That part of me took over. It was always surprising.”

The process, she said, “can be excruciating. Truth is messy and paradoxical.”

But, it never fails to offer lessons.

“There’s always more that painting teaches me,” she said.

Her show, which she only came to name “Fluctuations” just days before tonight’s opening reception, will display a range of her work.

“It’s a mixture that won’t make sense to anyone but me,” she laughed. “In it there are moments of bewilderment and beauty.”

In Trace Gallery’s Nasisse, the already-vibrant Ridgway artist’s community has been augmented by his enthusiasm and experience. A former professor of ceramics at University of Georgia, and an accomplished potter, sculptor and ceramicist, Crilly said Nasisse’s arrival in Ridgway has been most welcome.

“We’re lucky,” she said. “He’s been a part of expanding and invigorating our arts scene here. His commitment to it is inspiring and contagious.”

According to the gallery’s statement, Trace is, “… dedicated to showing serious, committed, artists who have evolved a body of work that represents their unique worldview. When all of the hours, days, months, and years in the studio result in a series of pieces that reflect real depth of meaning and visual sophistication, the aesthetic accomplishment is something that cannot be achieved in any other way. The studio becomes a place of discovery, meditation, and revelation, a place where the artist opens up and becomes a conduit for something extraordinary.”

Trace Gallery is located at 379 North Cora in Ridgway.