Vermont has served artist Craig Mooney well. After growing up in New York City, he traveled, worked in the film industry in London and New York, and considered being a doctor, searching to find his way. Art was the last place he looked. “I did every possible thing to avoid being an artist,” he says. “If I had gotten into med school, I probably wouldn’t have ever shown my work.”
A job in a medical lab brought him to Burlington, Vermont, as he was waiting to get into medical school. He entered an employee art show at another hospital. “I brought in a few paintings. I caught the eye of the PR person,” he remembers. “They wanted me to do paintings for a new hospital. This came just as I was getting rejected from medical school.” Mooney took it as a sign. “I wasn’t a great scientist,” he says.
Despite the fact that Mooney had been painting for a while, he was unsure of how to be a full-time artist. He was accepted into the Vermont Studio Center in Johnson, Vermont, and spent more than four months on his first commission, working day jobs and painting on the side. “It was probably the scariest thing I ever did,” he recalls. “Everyone in New York said I was crazy and that I would starve. And I did starve, but I was happy! Little by little, I found my way. I started to get recognition. I got into a couple of galleries in Vermont, which led to Boston, Atlanta—and then it became something I could do full-time.” Today, Mooney completes up to 150 paintings a year to keep up with the 16 different galleries that represent him, everywhere from London to Martha’s Vineyard.
Without training or an art school education, Mooney considers himself an art world outsider—like his father, an amateur artist who never showed his work. “My father never exhibited, although I think he certainly could have,” he says. That independent streak is alive in Mooney, who sees his lack of formal training as a benefit. “I’m not hung up on technique. I’m not constrained. I’m sure I do everything incorrectly,” he says. “I learned everything on my own. I developed my own technique and it works for my process.”
Mooney’s work, while representational, bursts with expressive brushwork and color. The subjects, whether landscape, cityscape, or figures, are really just ways to explore paint. Like dreams, his paintings have an air of the familiar, yet lack specificity. Idealized and a bit fantastical, they are landscape as an escape. “It could be whatever you want it to be—it’s mutually inclusive,” he says. “I compare it to listening to a song and you make up the lyrics, then you see the liner notes and you’re a little disappointed. I don’t want to deny people enjoyment of the paintings.” Mooney’s paintings are like beautiful daydreams. Who wouldn’t want to join him in his reveries?