Month: September 2016
This painting, Miss Kitty and the Not So Cheerful Cherub, is currently in an exhibit in the gallery at Friends Homes Guilford, here in Greensboro, NC called “Our Brush With Tales – An Interactive Exhibit with Five Artists and Two Storytellers.” At the opening the storytellers preformed the stories they created inspired by, or in response to, the displayed paintings.
When I submitted this painting for the show I wondered what the storytellers would see. It was interesting to hear the stories that were told around my painting. But it was almost as if the act of storytelling, the performance, was more important than the story or the actual narrative of the artwork itself.
(You can come up with your own story, if you like, before you read on!)
One story was told from the point of view of the objects: about a bad kitty who harassed all of the objects or characters. The clown, troll, stuffed toy, and cherub were all carefully described along with the hideous acts that were perpetrated on them by the mean kitty. The books on the shelf were described in detail, including a recited poem from the pages of The Cheerful Cherub, as if the storyteller actually opened the book and read it.
The other story was about a reminiscing mother who comes home after dropping her son off at college. She walks into the son’s bedroom and sees the shelf, just as it was left by her son as a child, and describes these sweet, cliché memories of his childhood. And I thought, really? Does that really look like a shelf that would be in a child’s room?
I wondered what the storytellers really got from my painting – if their initial impressions differed from their presented stories, if their stories were censored in any way, or if they were so puzzled by my painting that they had to invent just semi-related stories.
The exhibit includes printed versions of the stories that were told along with the artists’ own statements about their particular painting.
Here’s what my painting is about…
I survived Jeff’s death. We were planning to be married. The morning I found him hanging peacefully, finally free of pain, my whole world was shattered. But I understood. I accepted. That didn’t make it hurt any less. I grieved. And I painted.
I fell in love with Jeff’s things the day I met him, his belongings an extension of who he was. We both had an affinity for old, sometimes obsolete items. He taught me to appreciate things as we found them – usually worn and covered with dust, loved and left behind.
After Jeff’s death, I continued to cherish his things. I looked to them for answers, for comfort. I continued to collect things in his absence. I combined these things to tell our story – various still life scenarios in oil paint like this one: an abandoned stuffed toy sits on a shelf next to his books, daisies wilt in a sunny yellow vase, little troll and clown smile as if remembering a happy time, a silly cherub plays with a noose on his ankle, and a moth hovers briefly, visiting.
On Saturday mornings together we would go scouting to rescue vintage and antique treasures from yard sales and estate sales. These things surrounded us in our studio and in our home. Many would find their way into Jeff’s artwork. Now they find their way into mine.
I have a story to tell. I have things inside I need to express. But I censor myself. Not sure what I should say and not say. How my words will make people feel. How I will look. What people will think of me.
Worried that writing, and telling, about the tragic things, and then the ways certain people neglected me or hurt me will make me look selfish, like I’m fishing for sympathy, or like I’m exaggerating about a troubling relationship after the fact so people take my side, like I’m really the monster.
But why do I care?
It’s my story. Along with the few beautiful parts of my life, these things are a part of who I am. And I like who I am now. Despite the fact that I perpetually feel like a freak who doesn’t fit in. I could “be positive” and “move on” and “forgive” but that doesn’t heal the hurt. It’s still there, even if it’s buried down deep under new things I find to distract myself with. It’s still there.
Writing heals. Painting heals. Tell your story. The people who ignore you don’t matter. The people who react negatively fueled by their own selfishness don’t matter, the people who shame you don’t matter. Tell your story.
One day Jeff said, “This is gonna change your life!” and he placed in my palm a small packet of golden watch hands.
He saw me struggle with time, how time taunted me, or rather, how I allowed it to taunt me. He helped me see how to disregard it, to just let things be. I was working on reconstructing time according to my own inclinations toward it, not how it’s typically imposed on us.
I realized that I’d been collecting old clocks. I’m drawn to them – the beauty of the design, the mystery of time that they hold. I wonder what was happening when the hands stopped moving on that particular timepiece.
These concepts of reality and time, you can construct them, stretch them, mold them, into what suits you. And when someone mentions “the real world” or thinks you’re not in it, they have no clue…