Cassandra Gaisford is an award-winning artist, transpersonal art therapist, author, and Reiki master who infuses her work with positive energy and light. She believes in the healing power of creativity to transform people’s lives, making them feel refreshed, playful, inspired, and joyful.
She was the supreme winner of the Wai Art Awards, and a finalist in the Adam’s Portrait award. Having participated in various overseas workshops including a Sumi–E ink painting workshop in Hawaii with ex-pat artist, Max Gimblett, her latest works embrace the simplicity of pleasure and personal experiences that create flow and incite joy.
“As an intuitive artist with a passion for following my ‘inner joy’ I hope my work captures and celebrates the ‘life-giving’ aspects of art, and leaves viewers with a feeling of pleasure, contentment, and peace.”
Awards and achievements
- Supreme Winner – Wai Art Awards for “Love Stain” – a mixed media triptych
- Finalist The Adam Portrait Award and Exhibition, Wellington, New Zealand
- Amazon bestselling author:
Art of Success: Leonardo da Vinci
The Art of Success: Coco Chanel
The Happy, Healthy Artist: Worry Less, Improve Your Health & Create a Sustainable Creative Career
Play Dates: Insights and Inspiration to Spark and Sustain Your Creativity
Mid-Life Career Rescue: How to Confidently Leave a Job You Hate, and Start Living a Life you Love, Before It’s Too Late.
How To Find Your Passion And Purpose: Four Easy Steps to Discover A Job You Want and Live the Life You Loveand other works of fiction and non-fiction, including Where is Salvator Mundi? The Art of Deception.
Hello Cassandra! You are an award-winning artist, transpersonal art therapist, author, and Reiki master. How did it all start for you in the world of art, and how do you merge these together?
Cassandra: From the age of 4, I would spend holidays with my grandmother, Mollie. My grandmother had a very traumatic childhood and spent her childhood in foster care. As a young woman, she taught herself to paint and she passed this joy to me. Together we would paint watercolours and oils and laugh and play. Mollie found tremendous joy and healing through many creative outlets and I am happy to say she passed this gift of creativity to me.
My parents, like many of their generation in the 1980s, did not think it was possible to make a career
in the arts. They forbid me from studying art at college and I was steered into commerce. Looking back, I see now how a grounding in business is a very helpful tool to have. But for many years I neglected my creative calling.
In my thirties, I was very lucky to have been able to stay in New York and to visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I was even luckier because while I was there I unexpectedly rediscovered a passion I had forgotten. I share the following excerpt from my Passion Journal at that time (which, incidentally, was bright red!) in the hope that it illustrates some of the strategies I encourage clients who I mentor to try.
‘To see these paintings makes my heart sing, my eyes sparkle, and a smile settle upon my lips. I feel a shortness of breath and my heart rate quickens. I want to take them all in. I love the ones with texture so rich you can almost feel the paint. I have to stop myself from reaching out to touch them. I am flushed with excitement and a thirst that cannot be quenched.’
And so it was that my ‘body barometer’ reminded me of the deep joy and love I feel when I paint. After reading Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way I set myself a challenge to create and sell my art through galleries. I thought it was a great confirmation of the power of passion when an art gallery owner, who exhibited and some of my paintings not long after I returned from New York, said to me, ‘You have a rare ability to capture an emotion.’
Later I became transfixed with the work of Mark Rothko after seeing his sublime paintings in Paris, France. Their transcendent, spiritual power set my heart aflame. It was then that I began to paint in the colour-field, flow paintings I am most celebrated for.
I entered art competitions as a challenge and was super surprised, and thrilled when I won, The Supreme Prize of the Wai Art Awards. I used the money I won to travel to Maui with Max Gimblett, an ex-pat New Zealander who is a Buddhist Zen master and the only New Zealander to ever have the accolade of exhibiting at the Guggenheim. His Buddhist philosophy and Sumi-ink techniques with the emphasis on spontaneous, joyful gestures had a profound effect on me.
Later, after abandoning a successful corporate career I retrained as a therapist and counselor and discovered a therapy pioneered by a man who originally trained as an architect, Interactive Drawing Therapy. I loved the powerful effect this tool had on mining the subconscious, transforming pain, and bringing light and healing to children’s and adults’ lives.
Somewhere along the way in my fifties, I discovered the work of Helen Frankenthaler… I loved the way she embraced a childlike love of beauty and her call to ‘let er rip’ – to embrace spontaneous joy in colour-soaked fields of colour. I devoured her bio and found a kindred soul.
She had a very traumatic childhood and suffered from anxiety and sadness and found release in her paintings. ‘Each crisis, if properly realized, can turn into production’ she wrote. Twenty days later, with the freedom and curiosity of a child, she painted what is regarded as her greatest work, Mountains, and Sea.
As Alexander Nererov writes in this biography of Helen Frankenthaler, Fierce Poise, ‘The painting recalled the freedom that Helen’s sociology professor Erich Fromm had espoused, ‘We all know what a spontaneous act is and may have some vision of what human life could be if these experiences were not such rare and uncultivated experiences.’
Fromm saw the opposite of this freedom all around him in his adopted country, the USA. I feel history repeating all around me currently. I wanted to feel more love, less fear, and to help others achieve happiness too.
I set an intention to make child-like spontaneity my new norm. Capturing, creating, and collaborating with others the beauty of childlike play has become my passion and joy. I love painting on the wing and seeing people moved by spontaneity, joy, and ultimately life itself.
It was a great compliment when someone, intending to be derogatory, said to me, ‘Are you the woman that paints like a child?’ ‘Yes, I am,’ I said. ‘Come to the studio and play.’
What are some of the stories behind your work?
Cassandra: LOVE STORY
People often ask where do I grab my inspiration from. In this case, it was the story of a man’s love affair with his wife who died from cancer. He said to me, “I would love to commission you to conjure up an exquisite piece of art…Love all the vibrant memories my special lady brings. Love, sea, sand, salt, and Pohutukawas.’
I asked him to send me photos of the two of them when they were happiest. I drew inspiration from all their loves and his wife’s love of racy reds. I also drew inspiration from the beautiful abstract pattern I saw in a photo of the two of them and the dress of his beloved wife. I also threw in a few square shapes, in reference to a checked shirt he had been wearing.
Though she passed several years ago from cancer, I wanted this painting to be a celebration of her life. Love Story was such a joy to paint as I know the healing power art can bring, a loving hug during times of sadness and a big vibrant reminder of the love that endures.
For reasons, unbeknown to me, Ces never returned to my gallery and never purchased the painting. But I believe paintings find the right people at the right time. I felt so honored to have been asked in the first place and to be using my gifts to capture such profound love.
I was super excited when, several months later, celebrity chef Jo Seagar visited my gallery in the Bay of Islands and became the new owner of this love-inspired work. The constant love story in Jo’s life has been her work for Hospice New Zealand. For over 25 years, as their ambassador and Patron, she has been raising funds and public awareness of their very important work.
Acrylic on canvas, brush, and palette knife.
15.5 cm w x 20.5 h
The inspiration for the painting came from reading a magazine article about the supermodel Helena Christiansen where she shared her experience of being teased and commented “Anything you are teased about or even bullied about in your teens puts such an imprint on you.”
I was reminded how I and also New Zealand broadcaster Wendy Petrie, used to go bright, bright, red and be so self-conscious and were called ‘beetroot’. The teasing only made my face go redder and I developed social anxiety and vowed to never stand out. Even to the point of planning my wedding and wanting a table down the back so no one could see me. I soon discovered that was no way to live.
I would put green makeup on to cover my red face which would also turn red if I drank alcohol so my teenage years were really tough but I learned to transform that and found comfort in my art. Hence the green in this painting. I added pops of pink because I realize that all my experiences help give me tremendous strength and compassion for others.
During one of my recent in-person art workshops, a participant pointed out the red heart at the right bottom of the painting. I hadn’t seen that! Love and creativity is the vibration that brings joy to our lives. After sacrificing art as a hobby, I began growing less and less satisfied with the toxicity of the business world. I fell back in love with my art and found tremendous healing and purpose in painting.
Retraining as an art therapist filled me with purpose. I wanted others to feel what I found art gave to me—renewed spirit, optimism, hope, and healing. Helping men, women and children move beyond their trauma and into their essence and feel energized, excited, and purposeful has been so rewarding.
My Beetroot painting reminds me I am here to show others that joy can be created from our traumatic wounds.
Describe a real-life situation that inspired your artwork?
Cassandra: Te ATAROA
Float framed in Ash by Peter Sharp.
Te Ataroa was inspired by and named after a beautiful baby who was only three months old when I saw her while she was with her mum shopping for groceries. The young couple had lost a little girl who, a year earlier, was stillborn. Their new daughter, Te Ataroa was such a special blessing. Translated from Maori her name means “the long morning”.
As I painted the artwork I imagined Te Ataroa’s sister shining down from heaven, sending her family endless kisses across the morning sky. The colours were inspired by the pretty little pink, white, and green floral dress Te Ataroa was wearing when I met her. I showed the young couple a photo of the painting and they told me that their mother wept because it touched their hearts. After exhibiting this painting in a group exhibition, The Beauty of Resilience, just as New Zealand emerged from the first Covid lockdown in 2020, I gifted this painting to the family.
This bespoke piece was commissioned by a family as a ‘statement piece’ to adorn the large white walls of their newly refurbished home. The brief was “we want it to always feel like summer.”
Beautifully layered with sensuously sultry glazes of acrylic, Always Summer embodies the new energy of flow, optimism, hope, and renewal that our souls ache for after this tumultuous, confining time. I was delighted when the couple told me during a, particularly wet and stormy downpour how I had exceeded the brief! ‘It feels like it’s always summer’ they told me as driving rain pummelled their home.
FESTIVAL OF COLOUR
Festival of Colour was created in the studio during the full moon 2021 energy of Libra— joy, happiness, love, beauty… colour gives it all.
One of my great loves continues to be the joy and blessings colour brings to me, especially when I surround myself with colour in my home.
My other loves are painters that inspire me, including Mark Rothko and his large, spiritual, transcendent flow paintings. Van Gogh and his bold, colourful, healing creations that makes my heartache. Helen Frankenthaler and her large, innovative, flow paintings and her quest to capture and create beauty.
I am delighted that, while the majority of my works are inspired by tales of sadness and made during the lengthy periods of Covid-imposed isolation, people tell me that my paintings elicit joy and a remarkable sense of hope-inspired optimism. To create and capture vibrant memories, past, and future, and transform sadness into love-infused beauty is my grand passion.
What are some of the tools you use to create your distinct style of artwork?
Cassandra: I draw inspiration from my muses…Helen Frankenthaler, Leonardo da Vinci, and other artists. For example, I carry over the delicacy of Leonardo’s wet-in-wet technique to build the image in fine layers of transparent glazes of paint so that the edges merge like smoke. I use my fingertips as one of the blending tools, pressing my finger or palm to the canvas. With delicate circular movements, I smudge the paint until it blends. Liquid washes and blurring remove signs of brush marks. Lastly more soft semi-transparent washes and defining my shadows with darker strokes of pigment. Like Leonardo, I continue to experiment and take risks. From Helen Frankenthaler I have learned and found joy and beauty in soak stain pours using buckets of colour to create luminous colour fields of delight. I enjoy painting on the floor and seldom paint on an easel. I find I enter the energy of the painting in this way and the work has more depth.
From Max Gimblett, I have loved using mops, brooms, very little brushwork, and spiritual energy—employing all these to create my distinct style of artwork. I also use other tools including soft dry brushes, sponges, and absorbent materials to assist with the smooth blending. Occasionally I have been known to bring out my orbital sander!
Could you walk us through your process? How much planning do you do before you jump into a painting? If you do, what are you trying to solve at each stage of it?
Cassandra: I have to feel inspired. Fortunately, inspiration is everywhere. I am also inspired by optimism…the need to create it constantly in a world that seems beset by psychological and physical violence. I begin by using my ability to focus my thoughts and feelings toward things that make me feel better and better. The aim is to intentionally achieve a state of happiness. As Esther Hicks says, ‘Not only will wonderful actions be inspired, but wonderful results will follow.’ That certainly has been true. I am grateful my work sparks joy in people’s lives and that I have been able to make the world happier through colourful art & creative play.
I am constantly inventing intuitively in every stage, risking it all. But in this, I bring a child-like curiosity, intuitive spontaneity, and emergent play. I talk and sing to my paintings. I sit with them and ask them where they would like to go. I imbue them with positive vibrations, Reiki energy, and love. Above all, love. My paintings are love letters I sent out to the world. I am here as a joyful creator.
You say your work captures and celebrates the ‘life-giving’ aspects of art. Tell me more about that.
Cassandra: Robert McKee, a Fulbright Scholar, is the most sought after screenwriting lecturer around the
globe, once said, “A fine work of art-music, dance, painting, story – has the power to silence the chatter and lift us to another world.”
In the wake of Covid so, much attention has been diverted into fear, division disconnection, loneliness, and uncertainty I wanted to embrace artistically Dr. Joe Dispenza’s call to embrace the love bug. As an antidote to fear he created a movement to spread love in the world—GOLOV 20. I infuse my paintings with feel-good emotions, positive, uplifting energy laughter, happiness, love, optimism, and magic and then I send my love babies out into the world.
People have told me how my paintings have changed their lives, healed a wound, brightened their day, taken the rainclouds away-brought love into their homes. My paintings make people happy and enliven them. My art is created from my heart, and the love that I feel influences others. My art transcends space and time and is love made visible.
What was the most recent piece you’ve enjoyed working on, and why?
Cassandra: Through delicate, pulsating colours I come to life. I loved creating my bespoke commission piece, Always Summer. I loved collaborating with the family and transforming the brief they held in their minds into a heart-resonating reality. I was so thrilled when they held a coming-out party for the painting and told me how delighted they were. ‘We absolutely love it.’
The delicate glazes have produced a barely perceptible sensation of physical presence and imperceptible vibrations which produce such radiance. It is a portrait of life itself and speaks to my purpose in creating art – to uplift humanity.
How has your art evolved over the years?
Cassandra: My work has become more elegant, authentic, and sensual. I have become more playful and allowed myself to pursue the Pied Piper of child-like delight. There is a spiritual quality and beauty to my work. My art is a reflection of me on a soul level: inspiring, compassionate, colorful, warm, and joyful. Which is why I call myself The Joyful Artist My art aesthetic continues to develop, it’s not one style, it’s an increasingly evolving, multi-nuanced story of accumulating purpose and passions.
My art, like me, has become more fearless. I’m enjoying being a prospector mining for diamonds within the field of our collective feelings, transforming negative emotions into jewels that will uplift humanity and shine the light for others to heal. I’ve also enjoyed more commissions, especially large-scale vibrant works. I love big!
What are you trying to communicate with your art?
Cassandra: Picasso once said, “Art washes from the soul the dust of everyday life.” I am very interested in the power of art to soothe, to speak, to uplift, to enable people to transcend the sorrows of the world and escape into beauty.
I want the light to translate my heart’s emotion – my desire for transcendence, freedom, spirituality, and peace. All the high-vibration emotions. Optimism, hope, love, joy, happiness, and gratitude. Seductive beauty works magnetic power Feedback from collectors and admirers includes “Your work speaks to my soul in a major way.”
“The piece inspires such positive feelings.”
“Your work has a magical, spiritual quality. I just love them. Really love them.”
What memorable responses have you had to your work?
Cassandra: There is a magical thing that can’t be quantified when your heart and soul and spirit go into the work. Love is magnetic—that’s why people buy my art. It’s not cerebral, it’s all about heart, that’s the whole point of art. It directly communicates. I’ve had clients burst into tears over a painting. Seeing people who love my work, reacting (tears, hugs, kisses) to witness that is an incredible gift.
What’s next on the horizon?
Cassandra: Currently, I am pressing forward with my new project, The Art of Life Inspiration Deck, using my original artwork and wisdom from a selection of my self-empowerment books. For my 56th birthday, my mother kindly took up my suggestion that as a gift I would love to purchase an online class that would teach me how to create my own oracle-inspired deck. Each card features a work of art created by me and paired with an insightful quotation. The cards in this unique deck may be used individually for daily inspiration. The idea is that you select a card, then let the images and words work together to encourage uplifting contemplation.
I have also begun sourcing a company to help me create a resort-inspired line of kaftan’s and furnishings. I’m super excited about the future. It looks colour-FULL:)