I met artist and spiritual director Carin Huebner (pronounced hib-ner) through chance encounter. Walking into Converge, a co-working space located in the RiNo Arts District of Denver, Huebner recognized me through a few photos of myself that end up on my Instagram feed. We then found a mutual appreciation for each other’s work, both inside and outside of the art studio.
Huebner works between a variety of media, primarily using experimental photography as her vehicle in art but also falling recently into the world of painting as well.
Born and raised outside of Houston, TX, Huebner comes from a suburb with one high school, a place that for her never validated the arts, but rather focused on athletics and high performing academics. She recounted going to a meeting for the new high school getting built and hearing arts funding getting cut left and right, which is a standard conversation for most small town high schools unfortunately. Though always interested in the arts, Huebner had ambitions to be a choreographer, being a cheerleader and dancer during her primary education, but she soon had to switch career paths after encountering various health issues, which did not allow her to dance.
Growing up vacationing to Colorado for ski trips with her family, when Huebner graduated high school and started to think about college, she began to think more about her passion rather than the pressure to be a high performing academic student in her college career (though no doubt she still was), and enrolled in University of Colorado Boulder for art. Following the beauty that Boulder has to offer, Huebner stated, “I saw pictures of Boulder and thought that would be helpful for me to be able to step outside of my door and see something that magnificent everyday.”
Huebner had a United Methodist upbringing, and as she grew in the church she found a mentor who guided her before going off to college. A graphic designer and artist herself, Huebner’s mentor was the first person to open her eyes to the idea of making a living from your art, but Huebner still wrestled with the idea moving to Boulder. She viewed this move as a mission of sorts, but more along the lines of, “I just want to move to Boulder and love on people” rather than trying to spread any sort of religious message.
Throughout her college career, Huebner pursued her art, but was always very aware of what other career was going to pay the bills. Not viewing art as a means to make a living, Huebner was constantly juggling studio arts with various other art outlets such as photojournalism or art history. She constantly had another major that she was focusing on as a safety net.
“I would never really commit to it because I was afraid, and also because I have always felt like an imposter in the art world. There’s this funny thing for me, being in the Christian world as an artist I never fit there. And then being in the artist world, being a Christian, and not being someone who its easy to live, breathe, be art, I don’t fit there either.”
It wasn’t until she finally took a photojournalism class (having only taken pre-requisites before) that she realized that studio art was what she needed to go after, and made the switch to being a fine art photographer.
“I think I actually might not want to just capture the stories, I think I might want to make up stories.”
Taking a huge leap of faith for her work, Huebner moved across the country, declaring, “If I want to do this, if I want to do art, it has to be the only thing that I do and I have to make a massive change right now.” She then enrolled in Corcoran College of Art and Design, getting her BFA there.
“That was the pivot point of thinking that people actually do do this for a living and I could really do this. It took moving across the country and cutting all of my communities to build a new community based in living, breathing, being art.”
This is the point in which I had to stop Carin and ask what happened.
While this was such an uplifting story, a classic story of someone finding and following their passion, I had to question her because I knew Carin for her spiritual work first off, so how did she fall back into the religious world?
We then started talking about her returning to Colorado after her time in Washington DC. Having focused on her art for the last two years of her college career, Huebner found herself returning to spiritual content within her work, and not wanting to create work based solely in her own experience, she continued her education at Denver Seminary to have an academic backbone to the content she was delivering within her work.
She was the first to admit that Denver Seminary may have not been the end all be all of the content she was researching and making, but she “felt a responsibility to have more academic background in it. I didn’t want to put things out into the world that I didn’t know, that were just from my experience, that I didn’t have an academic background in.
Where I’ve been and where I come from, I’ve seen some spiritual abuse too: mind games and twisting and that sort of thing. I didn’t want to be putting things out into the world that I felt like I hadn’t wrestled with on a really really deep level and on a really academic level too.”
“I think there’s a fear there of something just coming out of me; it needs to be based in something beyond just my own cognition”
In addition to making experimental photography and diving now into painting, Carin and her husband Jesse run an organization called FODR, which focuses on transformation of the self through creativity. This comes in the form of spiritual direction, counseling, connecting creative individuals over prepared meals, as well as focusing on the creative life via their podcast “I Contain Multitudes”.
FODR was created specifically to be the intersection of art and spirituality that Huebner never had. Always feeling like a bridge person between the world of art and spirituality, FODR aims to be a community that makes space for people to learn through investigation of the artistic journey and show value in the artistic experience.
“I think we could all learn to be a little more open handed with life if we looked at the artist’s process more.”
Now a multi-business operating powerhouse, Huebner allows each part of her world to inform and influence each other, a prime example being her photography work, where she states that “everything is borrowed”. I was deeply fascinated by this idea when first browsing through her website and learned that her spiritual nature has placed a large roadblock in her way as an artist. Believing in a divine creator has made it difficult for Huebner to simply take photos of something and claim them as art, for they are really a work of art in themselves as an object already, and she is simply borrowing that image to use as her own.
Rather than images of cartoon characters or political propaganda as appropraition, Huebner views the act of photography itself as appropriation, which led her to begin manipulating her photos to create something new through processes of construction and deconstruction.
“In a sense, I think that it’s important for me that I always start with nature, but it almost doesn’t matter; its not necessarily what the image is, but what the image looks like. I’m also more interested in the emotional reality of the image afterwards, than what was happening in the image in the first place.
I want to set up an experience for the viewer, I don’t want to tell them what to feel there. And at the same time I betray that a little bit because of the psychology of color, because of the space of texture, all of those things that evoke different emotion, I’m looking to set up an emotional landscape for them to maybe feel those emotions, but they’re the ones that get to say what those emotions are attached to.”
Much like the effects of smell, Huebner’s photography work strives to place a viewer in a space of emotion, memory, and thought process through color fields, physical manipulation of film, and undulating abstraction. Her work reminds you of something familiar, evokes feelings of the past, and yet still confronts you with the question of what you are really looking at and why it feels the way it does.
“I am burning pieces of landscapes to present this idea that there might be something beyond the landscape that we’re engaging with; this beauty, that is a powerful thing that creates the emotional response in us when we see an incredible landscape.”
Then much differently is her painting work, which functions almost oppositely, making the viewer find and imagine landscape on a small scale, presented through tender distinct moments of color among fields of white and neutrals. These two very different processes are both bookended by thoughts of deleting, omitting, editing, and refining, which for Huebner are rooted back in her spiritual upbringing.
“I was so pushed in my spiritual community in college that God is a god of refinement. That God is always refining us… and now that language is very different to me and the process is very different to me. It's much more loving that it was presented but, that’s where it started, me trying to refine this object, or to deconstruct an object and let it be beautiful in the midst of its deconstruction rather than trying to go somewhere or be perfect.”
Working out of her home studio, a converted guest bedroom with double doors, an island of monitors and printers dubbed ‘The Command Center’, and closet shelving for art storage, Huebner is now working towards creating and maintaining her art practice.
She is a prime example of a working creative who wears many hats, a story that is all too familiar living in a thriving metropolitan city where creatives are forced to hold down a day job in addition to their studio practice just to survive. Feeling like she doesn’t maintain the schedule of a ‘professional artist’, Huebner manages to make striking photographic work, experiment and develop her skills in painting, as well as run a spiritual direction business and spend time with her family. Dancing between her many lives lends itself to limited time in the studio, but Huebner told me that the urge to create never leaves her, having moments of “Oh, something is funky in me, and that probably means I need to get into the studio.”
Carin Huebner continues to amaze me in the amount of work that she does for herself, for creatives in Colorado, as well as communities at large. She is currently investigating concepts around death and what those ideas do to the human condition, trying to embrace and understand death rather than fear it. More of her work can be found on her website as well as her Instagram, and for her spiritual direction work check out the FODR website, Instagram, as well as their podcast “I Contain Multitudes”.