Rita Conway on art, life, rejection and painting out the pain

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You can find art all over town -- not just on gallery walls. In this series, we'll be looking at some of the local artists who serve up their work in coffeehouses and other non-gallery businesses around town.

Rita Conway had been coming to Colorado to camp every summer since she was three. And when the special education teacher finally moved west from her life-long home in Oklahoma, she found not just a new career, but a renewed spirit.

See also: Buying art in a gallery? Artist and curator Eric Matelski wants you to think again.

"I'm totally outdoorsy and love nature," says Conway. So her family wasn't surprised when, after ending a four-year marriage, the teacher made her love for Colorado official and relocated in 2002. Conway switched careers, too, finding solace as a massage therapist and aesthetician -- both areas where she was still able to help others in a very hands-on way. "I'm obviously a tactile person," she says. "I always have been painting off-and-on, and now it feels like I need to paint." In fact, she often breaks into spontaneous dance and yoga while painting.

Conway's initial itch for art appeared during her freshman year in high school, when a teacher told her she had a gift. That comment stuck with her. "I took art all through high school and college," she says.

Over the past few years, Conway has been "cranking out the paintings," she says. In March, the artist did her first art show at Trilogy Financial Services. Conway's work also hangs at the studio, Karma Yoga Center, where she's practiced yoga for several years. "I know the owner, Katrina, and she encouraged me to hang my work. I was so grateful for that," Conway says.

On display at Karma are two paintings from Conway's Luna series (see above), which she began compiling last year. "I just started painting a ton of moons," Conway says, who calls herself a "moon freak." "I follow the moon, and I've always been connected to the moon ever since I was a little girl," adds Conway.

Conway calls her style of painting "thick." Her work is almost sculptural, and gives you the sticky feeling you get from looking at a full moon on an eerie sort of evening. That's largely thanks to the acrylics, Conway's primary tool. While she's used oils, she finds acrylics are easier to clean and less noxious; they're also fun to experiment with. "I like layering stuff up, working with acrylics differently to find texture that isn't flat like the wood," Conway says.

Conway recently approached the owner at Café Europa about hanging her work there, but was declined. "Art is subjective," says a perpetually-upbeat Conway, "Not everybody is going to like my work.

"It was good to get rejected and to get that first 'no' out of the way," she adds.

Keep reading for more from Rita Conway.

Conway named her first series, which she started working on in 2006, Direction Series 1. It's incredibly eclectic, combining several subjects and including commissions like "Fleur de Lis." Drawing everything together, though, is a subtle emphasis on nature.

"Breath Goddess" (below) is particularly moving. "My trachea was closing up, and I couldn't breathe, and they finally caught it last year," Conway says, "so I had surgery." She paints what she feels inside as an outlet for resolving life's lemons. "You can get through the hard times," Conway says. "Life isn't easy or perfect, but it is wonderful."

Conway paints on both canvas and wood, but prefers the latter. "I like painting on wood better because then I can rough it up," she says. "I can have dents in it, I can hit it and get that part of me out. You can't hit a canvas." Conway is getting ready to work on Directions 2 . She isn't sure where she is going, but she knows this much is true: "I've gotta keep painting. I have a lot of stuff to paint out, and this is going to heal me."

For more information, visit Conway's website.

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