Painting with passion


Photos by Jose Leiva, Text by Linda Leiva

Grayling Cunningham of Lewiston sits in front of a canvas, picks a color and starts painting.

“I paint feelings; I paint emotion,” the 35-year-old said.

His passion began in high school at 16 to 17 years of age.

“I had an amazing teacher,” he said. “He allowed us to work with oils, which is an extremely expensive medium, so much more than with acrylics. But I fell in love with it. It’s like painting with honey.”

The cosmetologist who works at a local salon styling hair said, “My true passion is painting, and it has evolved over the past eight years.”


When he was 26 or 27 he renewed his passion and as his friends opened a gallery, he aggressively began creating works of art again.

“I’m constantly trying to do better, like working on human form, it’s really a hard thing to do. A lot of my work tends to be abstract, even the ones with human form in them tend to be.”

He doesn’t start out with something for the canvas, he said.

“I don’t plan out what I paint. I sit in front of the canvas and pick a color first and I start painting.” As he gestures to a painting, he adds, “Like this canvas, I started with red. I painted the red background. I planned that it would be a two-canvas painting and the painting in the middle with the oil and the palate knife; it’s like the texture and the thick paint of the palate knife in the middle forces (these canvases) to be together together.

“It’s its own emotion. Some people think of red as an angry color, but some think of it as a love color. So these things could be various things to various people,” Cunningham said.

His inspiration comes from Salvador Dali. “Though I paint nothing like him, I am a huge fan of his. I have his prints all over my apartment,” he said.

Cunningham said his work at the salon mirrors his art somewhat.

“Hair color can be like painting as well. Whether applying technical foils, or huge panels of color with various shades, that’s using lots of texture and it is very artistic. You can be constructing an elaborate, artistic piece of hair. It’s just a different medium. I am using color, texture, brushes.

“I come home from a day where I have things I’ve shared with clients or they’ve shared with me. I cannot stop thinking about it and I start painting and my painting becomes that day,” he said. “When I can make someone’s day brighter by making them feel better about themselves or share some kind of emotional connection (in my painting) and they can feel those emotions and some kind of emotional connection, then I feel satisfied too.”