Artist Caroline Geys takes us through The Vortex Project


The Vortex Project began in the fall of 2015, led by multi-media artist Caroline Geys. The group of downtown artists spent time together "exploring the idea of sharing a way and perception of life that is both liberating and empowering." The project provides audiences with a variety of mediums to explore, including paintings, sculptures, photography, video, 3D animation, music and glass art, with the aim of evoking a story of transcendence and innocence: healing through the power of sound and color.

The exhibition got its first introduction to the public at Space Camp Gallery, where guests entered through a Vortex Tunnel made of recycled hoisery in a multitude of colors. They were then invited to visit the different areas which were held together by a common theme in their section. The artists worked together "to form an otherworldly experience through the insertion of 'color' into a sylized 'norm-core' world" to give audiences a participatory and multi-dimensional look into new creative alternatives that can be translated into their everyday lives. We spoke with Geys to learn about her history with art, influences on the project, and how the group worked together to form one cohesive exhibition.

Can you tell us a little bit about your background? How did you get started in the arts and pursue it as a career?
I was born in Wilryk, Belgium and moved to Orlando, Florida, with my family in 1983. My father sold his art gallery to his partner and moved us to the states because he wanted to develop neighborhoods with single family homes, and the land was too expensive in Belgium at the time. He continued to collect art after we moved to Orlando, and I ventured with him to auctions, flea markets, galleries and art fairs at an early age and continued to throughout my childhood and sporadically in my 20’s. While the art he specialized in at the art gallery in Antwerp was 19th and 20th century, the art he began to purchase in the states was mainly modern abstract paintings from the 1930s to now the 1990s, and he went through a long period of collecting Murano glass in the 1990s. Having grown up surrounded by his art collection, I was inspired at a very young age and began drawing at the age of 7. I never stopped creating after that. For various personal reasons, I attended business school and graduated with a double major in marketing and real estate. I took some art classes in high school and college, but am mainly a self taught artist. Since graduating college I’ve worked full time at various architecture firms in marketing in Miami and California, and have also worked for my father’s land development company. I’ve been at a downtown firm for three years now specializing in marketing for the Pre K-12 Education studio. Like many other people, I’ve essentially had two different careers at the same time since graduating college and in the near future will be taking the plunge to only have my art and design studio as my career, and be my own boss.


Why was it necessary for you to create The Vortex Project?
Since my work stretches into various mediums so does my thinking, fueling a velocity of ideas from one medium to another. I really wanted to bring an experience to the viewer by creating the different elements of my Vortex world to the exhibition. Being able to collaborate with other creatives that bring their expertise to the table made my vision come to a reality. My work has always embodied a positive and/or innocent disposition which also extracts from elements of my childhood where our family has endured some tribulations that impacted me as I was growing up. I started having lots of nightmares and wanted to be able to block out the things I was able to that would negatively impact or scare me. To this day, I still have vivid dreams and nightmares every night, both positive and negative ones, and so I still limit myself to what I have control over to what I can expose myself to; i.e., the news, scary movies as trivial as it may sound to those that have the tolerance to it. This project and the exhibition enabled me to create a world that embodied an overall positive and dreamy experience for viewers to be submerged in.

The project is described as “an otherworldly experience through the insertion of ‘color’ into a stylized ‘norm-core’ world.” What aspects are otherworldly? Which are norm-core?
Lindsay Scoggins, the video artist included in the project, created a beautiful and fluid animation that was a reinterpretation of various abstract Vortex digital pieces I had created in the last year. The animation was projected on the far wall of the gallery which overlapped with the living room design set that we created with a mid-century modern aesthetic. Two portraits of Flynn’s great grandparents from the 1950s and a small Victorian painting from my late grandmother hung on the left and right sides of the wall so that the animation was also layered on them while it was played. The soft and earthy color palette of the living room set created a norm-core and contradictory role to the animation and the rest of the exhibition where vivid color is injected on the walls and in the pieces that hung throughout the space. The amalgamation of the two visual palettes and aesthetics creates an otherworldly experience that wouldn’t normally be brought together.


There’s a number of collaborators on the project. How did each participate and what did they bring to the table?
Michael Atallah is the filmmaker for the short film that we shot a couple of weeks before the exhibition which will be released at the end of the summer. After many meetings we connected our dots of what we wanted the visual outcome to be and he created a story that embodies all of his filmmaking styles and aligns with my aesthetic.

Lindsay Scoggins is the animator and effects artist who created a Vortex animation mentioned above that was projected on the wall of the living room set.

Peter Nylund and Tatiana Nylund make up DarksideStudios LA, a creative service and event-marketing company. Peter is the photographer who is creating a photography story in conjunction with the short film and Tatiana is the PR creative who has been melding the storylines of the exhibition and film into the media.

Flynn Helper is the glass artist who I collaborated/painting with on three glass pieces. Out of the three pieces we created, we selected the piece we felt best fit in with the living room set and the exhibition. Flynn is also the owner of Space Camp Gallery where the exhibition was held.

Rafael Sampaio Rocha is an architect turned installation designer and fabricator who engineered the Vortex Tunnel installation.

Lea Wright is a recent graduate from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill who specialized in printmaking and painting. She has been assisting me for various murals and projects in the last year, including this one.

Cameron Tong is a collaborative pianist and composed the improvisation of "Melodic Blurred" which Lindsay also created a reinterpretation of the song which played along with the animation.

How is your work style different in collaborative versus solo settings?
It allowed me and us to explore a combination of new media arts with traditional arts to incorporate into the Vortex world.


Additionally, there’s a number of different mediums. How did you decide which to take on? Which was the most challenging piece to create?
We each took on the mediums that we specialized in. For me, the Vortex Tunnel was the most difficult because I hadn’t created an installation like that one. There was a lot of mathematics and preparation that went into the configuring of it. With the help of Rafael and Flynn, they made me see what was realistic to make it work.

We Love Colors provided materials for what can arguably be called the centerpiece of The Vortex Project. Can you tell us a little more about your relationship with them?
I’ve collaborated with the company since 2009 on various art projects; creating one-of-a-kind hand painted hosiery sold exclusively through their website and utilizing their recycled hosiery in installations and paintings as a part of my passion towards sustainability. After a few years of not working with the material, I was inspired to utilize the recycled hosiery again after creating a new painting where it was also incorporated into. In 2010, I created two small recycled hosiery pieces on canvas which included over a hundred cut pieces that stretched over the canvas and one is called Zaha Hadid’s City. Inspired by the now late, very influential female architect, I created an organic shape from the waistline of a hosiery pair that was always very present in her work. The following day after I started on the new painting that included the hosiery pieces, Zaha Hadid passed. Completing the piece for the opening became my tribute to her. Still inspired with utilizing the medium, I wanted to create another installation but at that time wasn’t sure what or where. The Vortex Tunnel wasn’t part of the exhibition until I looked at Space Camp Gallery’s space and was influenced to create a colorful and dynamic entry to the rest of the exhibition.

Through the architecture firm I currently work with and one of the interior designers, I've been able to collaborate with Shaw Contract Group for this installation. I was able to select the carpet sample colors and arrange them to pave the entryway through the Vortex Tunnel.

I have also been working with POVevolving print studio for a year now. They provided me with the platform to create large scale printing for this exhibition with the three panels that are printed on back lit film. In addition to limited edition Vortex archival prints, they have provided and produced an array of materials to print the series on; aluminum prints/cuffs, glass and phone cases. They have also recently rebuilt my website and created an online store for me to sell the specialized products nationally and internationally.

What healing properties does art have on us as people?
I believe that color and art with a positive demeanor is one of the most powerful tools that can infuse healing into the viewer's consciousness. Growing up around lots of art in our home that was beautiful to me and encompassed a lot of vivid colors made my world a more positive one and can affect others the same way. Looking back on the tribulations that occurred at a young age, I can see now how I was positively influenced by the work my father collected that filled our walls.

What’s your strongest memory of your childhood involving art?
Luckily I have several that are heavily imprinted in my brain, but there’s two that have stuck out all of these years. I was at a flea market with my father in Orlando around the age of seven or eight and he was starting to collect Murano glass at the time. He was showing me how to distinguish between what was a real piece of Murano and what was an imitation. I remember looking up at him and listening very intently, as I always did when he would teach me about various types of art. He used to always say to me, make sure you always ask lots of questions so you can understand things and that it’s ok to do so.

The second would be, at ten years old one of my parents' Belgian friends was visiting us and he owned a rug company in Belgium. He had seen some of my drawings that looked like patterns and encouraged me to create a set of patterns that he could potentially print on his rugs. Of course, I believed him and was inspired to do so. After completing them I showed him and checked off the ones he thought would be suitable for a rug. He didn’t end up using any of the patterns I created. However, about five years ago he purchased four paintings from an early collection of 2003 and told me that he always believed in me. I do remember thinking at ten years old that there were other facets that my designs could work for which has also lended itself to exploring non-traditional mediums besides paintings and drawings throughout the years.


How do you decide what colors to use in each piece?
The selection of colors has always been the most natural process for me and is an in the moment choice based on my mood.

Who is somebody that has helped shape you most as an artist in your adult life?
My father, hands down. He was my teacher from an early age and throughout. He didn't want me to be just an artist because he understood how extremely difficult it was to be one who could make a good living after having owned his art gallery in Antwerp. Growing up, he always pushed me to get my business degree because he felt it would give me a good backbone for any career and to make sure I would always be able to stand on my own two feet. I kicked and screamed throughout business school because all I wanted was to go to art school, and he and I's relationship wasn't as strong as what it was when I was young or now. Most schooling doesn't teach you nearly as much as it should for what you pay for or the amounts of hours you spend studying mostly things that you won't ever apply in real life. Life really comes full circle because after recent conversations with my father, I realized how much he understands me when I used to think through my 20s that he never did. He believes in me and has given me the tools to be a great business woman and has infused a lifelong inspiration of color and love.

One of his favorite artists is Victor Vasarely and in his collection is a print from Vasarely’s early Vega period which hung in the hallway next to my bedroom throughout my childhood. His collection serves as an inspiration to the Vortex series of digital art and continues to be directly tied to my memories of childhood.

What impression do you hope people leave The Vortex Project with?
Since there are many elements of The Vortex Project, and the short film and photo story will be released end of summer, we want the overall experience to be one of taking a dive from reality to fantasy, transcendence and innocence, healing through the power of sound and color. We also intend to create the experience in another venue with a different installation, animation and living room set for more viewers to immerse themselves in at a to be determined date. Stay tuned as we’ll be launching in the next week!


Photography by Matha Galvan