Creative by Nature

For Montclair's Carrie Emma Pradieu, making beautiful works of art starts with seeing the beauty that's already out there.
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WHILE WALKING HER BLIND, SEVEN-YEAR-OLD TERRIER WOLFIE through Montclair’s streets, Carrie Emma Pradieu is subject to distractions. A leaf bursting with autumnal hues, an intriguing rock or even a cloud shaped like an animal is likely to send the mixed-media artist and painter into a moment of dreaminess. She’s imagining their possibilities. “I’m always seeing beauty,” she explains.

“I’m always seeing beauty,” she explains.

And if passers-by sometimes give her funny looks when she’s bending over to pick up an odd, useless-looking object or stopping to photograph a sunset, well, that’s fine with Pradieu.

In her studio, the 40-something-year-old artist is surrounded by rocks, bags of buttons, tissue paper, ribbons, pins and leaves pressed into books. “I tend to be a bit of a hoarder,” she confesses. But all of these trinkets (or—let’s face it—sometimes bits of trash) may find new life on a canvas, layered with vibrant acrylic paints that are alive with color and energy.

“I just love color and texture, sequins and sparkle,” says Pradieu, who years ago worked as a print artist. “Everything I do just comes out looking like a pattern. It’s layered, with one color jumping off another.”

Pradieu is prepping for an upcoming exhibition—this fall, her work will be displayed at the Montclair Anthropologie store. The opening reception, on Oct. 20 at 6:30 p.m., coincides with the township’s biannual Art Walk, which celebrates its rich culture.

The paintings she’s working on take their cue from Indian summer.

“The oranges and reds and yellows and gold leaves make them feel autumnal,” she says. While painting, she pumps Indian pop music by Bally Sagoo in her studio.

“A lot of people are excited to see her work, ” says Taylor Lavore, store brand leader of Anthropologie, which is displaying Pradieu’s art as part of a year-old initiative to promote local artists.

The exhibition comes at a particularly busy time for the artist. In November she’ll donate a custom-painted guitar to be auctioned off for a fundraiser for the Oakland-based REED Foundation for Autism. That same month, her paintings and papier-mâché lanterns will also be on display at Swoon, a Montclair home furnishings and lifestyle boutique that owner Radika Eccles opened last October.

Eccles says she was immediately impressed by Pradieu’s work after the artist came into her shop and showed her photos of her paintings on her cell phone. “It was a fortuitous meeting,” she says. Eccles was drawn to the works’ vibrant colors and the positive energy they exude. Customers, she says, have had similar reactions.

“I don’t know what the inspiration is for her work, but it just makes you feel happy,” said Eccles.

One inspiration, paradoxically, is homesickness. Born and raised in southern England, she met her husband in 1994 while working as a print artist in New York City as part of a yearlong job required for her arts and design program at the prestigious London art school Central Saint Martins. After graduating back in England in 1996, she made the bittersweet decision to return to New York. Now a lingering longing for her homeland is apparent in some of her paintings. They feature abstract scenes of rain and English gardens—images she says take her back to her childhood.

“I totally call them my ‘happy paintings’ because when I’m in the studio, that is my escape,” she says. “If I’m feeling down, I just create.”

Pradieu also finds joy in teaching arts to young children. In September, she started teaching enrichment classes part-time at the Love and Truth Christian Academy in Bergenfield, something she calls both rewarding and inspiring. “The world would be quite a sad place without creation, without color, without thought-provoking art or design,” she says. “They’re some of the things that make life rich.”

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