Peace in painting
A local artist blurs the lines between meditation and creation to produce art that promotes peace.
Aliye Cullu poses with her painting, “Peace & Love On Earth,” an oil on canvas, at Tuscawilla Park in Ocala on Thursday, Nov. 9, 2023. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette] 2023.
Aliye Cullu’s artwork is created in the intersection of introspection and inspiration. Most often, the impetus is a natural landscape or waterscape, and her watercolor and oil paintings celebrate places she’s enjoyed–from Maine to Maui to St. Maarten. But other times she turns her attention inward, in meditation, to seek the spark for her next subject.
“I have a very busy mind,” Cullu said, adding that meditation is how she “get[s] colors, ideas and inspiration.” In 2019, she was persuaded by friends to turn her ideas into a book. Every day for two months, she literally went back to her drawing board, asking, “What is today’s theme?” As inspiration struck, she would begin with either the poem or the drawing, then fill in the other. The result was 62 oil paintings, each accompanied by stream-of-consciousness poetry.
“And then I designed my own calligraphic font and did the design and layout and self-published the book,” she said.
The result is “Meditations: Gentle Reminders,” a softcover book for sale at the Gallery on Magnolia. Each page features an image and a verse on topics including mindfulness, with its singular flower; harmony, with swirls of primary colors evoking the energy of synchronicity; and seasons, with brightly colored concentric circles and written reminder that “this, too, will pass.”
“I hope some of these words speak to you and guide you during times of transition,” Cullu wrote in the book’s artist statement, “from my heart and soul to your heart and soul.”
Finding inspiration in nature, Cullu has filled many small sketchbooks with ideas. But one of her favorite ways to capture a scene is to paint en plein air, where she can fully immerse herself in the natural beauty.
“I start by really looking and seeing what’s in front of me,” Cullu said recently while watercolor painting next to the pond at Tuscawilla Park. “It’s so wonderful. And, of course, being in nature, hearing the sounds, being in the flow of doing this work, it’s also about being in ‘painter’s mind.’ It’s just a different part of the brain that’s being used as I work and notice things, like not only the reflections on the water but also the activity of the water, the wind on the water. And also to be aware that there’s a surface underneath. So it’s an interesting dance between seeing what I see and also knowing what I know, such as light logic.”
Now semi-retired, the longtime graphic designer, desktop publisher, artist and calligrapher earned a bachelor of arts degree in visual studies from the University of Florida in 2005 and moved to Ocala in 2014. Although she lived in New York as a small child, she grew up in Gainesville and considers herself “a Florida girl.”
“I love Ocala. I’ve met wonderful people here,” she said. “It’s so wonderful to watch it grow,” she said of the local arts scene. Her artwork has been exhibited multiple times at Marion Cultural Alliance (MCA), and in September, her paintings “View of St. Maarten” and “Cross Creek Home” were included in MCA’s “From Books to Brush Strokes: Art Inspired by Stories” exhibition.
Cullu has painted—in vivid color—iconic local sites such as Juniper Springs and Paynes Prairie. Her recent watercolor, “Tuscawilla Trio,” features a grove of trees, highlighted by three tall palms, reflected in the pond in the midmorning sun. After the painting was finished, she reproduced the image on a greeting card to send to friends with a thoughtful handwritten note.
“Do what you love, whatever that is, and do what brings joy into your life” is Cullu’s advice for other creatives. “I think it’s really important to live in alignment with your life’s purpose, whatever that is. We are all creative, I believe. And it’s just a matter of tapping into the outlet, into what it is that we are to do with that creative energy.”
Learn more about the artist and her work at aliyecullu.com.