It’s just a clown.
I like clowns. I like old dusty clowns found in yard sales, just sitting there among the random left over objects. Clowns that aren’t intentionally creepy but for some reason still freak people out.
Is it something about the fake emotion in a clown mask that doesn’t match or successfully mask the real emotion or personality underneath? Is there a name for this phobia? Yup, some call it coulrophobia but it’s not officially recognized in psychology.
Clowns, or sometimes parts of clowns, find their way into my paintings. I don’t intentionally paint them to look scary, I just paint them how they are. It’s fun to watch people react the way they do and to ponder why.
What do I reveal? What do you see?
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 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.
Once I fell in love with a beautiful young man, under a blue moon. Long blond hair like silk, and bright green eyes so clear, that saw me, that understood. When he held me there was this warmth, like our hearts connected, even through skin, bones, muscle. One time I went away for the weekend to see if he’d notice I was gone.
Lilly’s World–Paintings of Little Wondrous Things
50 blocks finally finished, a view of Lilly’s world–things that surrounded Lilly, the sculpture, as she was being created.
Each block a small painting of a little wondrous thing, items casually collected and then left behind, each item small and easily overlooked, except by someone with an eye for wonder.
Coming soon to an Art-o-Mat perhaps near you…
And now that I’m finally finished with painting on little blocks of wood, I’m on to something new and Ahhh…back to the smell of oil paint and mineral spirits.
Fabulous easel and supplies made possible with support of the North Carolina Arts Council and the partnering arts councils of the Regional Artist Project Grant Program…of which I am a grateful recipient!
I’m thinking about scale. In school we’re urged to paint bigger, bolder, in order to learn confidence and freedom of expression. But then you find a scale that suits you. Not that you get stuck there, sometimes there’s an urge to paint huge, as big as your space will allow! Then sometimes you want to be quiet and paint tiny. For a while I was painting small things huge, taking a little possibly overlooked item and painting it on a scale several times larger. That was fun. Now I’m contemplating a smaller scale, painting little but significant things on canvases that are easily portable, easily collectible, not a huge commitment to display, but easily cherished. What do you think?
Art-o-Mat is fun and good for ya, too!
I’ve been working on my Art-o-mat® series – 50 cigarette pack-sized wooden blocks with tiny still life paintings on them that will be called Lilly’s World. They’ll go off to some Art-o-mat® near you or on the other side of the world.
Here’s a sneak peak…
Don’t Censor Me, Don’t Censor Yourself
I’m working on this painting, well, not at the moment. Right now I’m drinking a chai tea late and scrolling through Facebook and shaking my head after reading about the artist who’s being sued and threatened with violence for putting out a hilarious painting of a nude that resembles Trump. Like censorship will make America great again! Jeeeez.
Anyway, the other day I posted this in-process photo of my painting and apparently some people thought it was an actual photo, not a shot of a painting. Funny and interesting. There’s this debate among some that realism is boring, that abstract and abstracted works are the “real” art. Although photo realism, when a photo is reproduced inch by inch, as if by a machine, tends to lack soul or some kind of magic, I believe that a painting done in a realist style can have soul, magic, and feeling infused in it.
For years prior to falling in love with still life painting, I painted in an abstract expressionist way, striving to capture and convey energy and emotion, wonder, depth… Imagine my surprise when my professor admired my self-taught technique and suggested that I approach my still life paintings with an abstract expressionist mindset. I loved this idea; I’d been struggling with whether to define myself as an abstract or realist painter and whether my work previously held merit compared to the work done as an art major under the tutelage of a professional.
Why do we have to be either an abstract painter OR a realist painter? Why do we have to have labels at all? The truly great artists that came before us were skilled in a myriad of techniques. Look at Da Vinci, Picasso, and especially Gerhard Richter to illustrate how an artist can be versatile and extremely skilled in multiple techniques. Remember when knowledge and skill was valued, admired, and rewarded, when people would employ an artist to create something most people couldn’t make, something that took years of education, study, and practice to accomplish.
Now almost anyone who slops some paint on a store-bought canvas can call themselves an “artist” and label it “fine art.” As if I could call myself a lawyer or a doctor and practice those professions just because I declared myself as such. The public requires a degree and years of education and experience to practice professions. But when it comes to art they have no expectations and therefore do not value art and the idea that it should be a paid profession. The public’s idea/definition of an artist has changed. When they think artist, they think emotional, a bit crazy, impractical, not someone who can do the job precisely and with skill.
I do believe that emerging artists must recognize themselves as artists, recognize that they possess some inherit predisposition toward making art, and believe that they are artists before they can present themselves to the world as such. But it doesn’t stop there, a true artist continues to learn and work to refine and improve technique, to hone observational skills, to learn about history and art and the people who made it before us and how that affected the world and the definitions of art.
But if yer gonna slop some paint on a store-bought canvas and call it art, that’s not to say it might not be amazing! I still believe in the magic of what can happen on the canvas, what can be created out of inhibition, enthusiasm. I appreciate what this kind of work brings to the world; it’s just plain fun! (Cmon…I’m not that much of an art-snob.)
When you get the call to create, before you have the knowledge, education, confidence, etc. to create the images that are within you, you have to play! And when that play is combined with education, repetitive practice, hard work, failure, success…it all comes together to create, dare I say, a true artist.
The challenge is to create with all that skill and knowledge without losing the fun, the spontaneity–to approach still life painting with the mindset of an abstract expressionist.
I still believe in magic, I do.
Replication – The Moth
I’m sitting here at Delurk, the artist-run gallery in Winston-Salem, NC working my Sunday afternoon shift. As I look at this painting of mine hanging on the off-white brick wall, bathed in warm light, I think about how it came to be.
I was at a place where I was unsure of my palette, and what textures I wanted to paint next. I was in the studio on a warm spring morning, just messing around with paint, when Jeff walked in, on his way back in from having a cigarette out on the loading doc, cradling something in his hands. He held it out to me and said, “Look what I brought you…!”
I peered into his outstretched hands. It was a moth, with soft powdery wings of various browns and beiges, slow, on the verge of death, too tired to fly away. I gasped at the beauty of it. He gingerly set it on my table next to my easel, patiently waiting while it stepped off his fingers and onto the edge of a book.
I was mesmerized; It was gorgeous! I studied the lines, the colors, the textures–warm beige fading into dark dark browns and dots of soft powdery white. I stepped up to my easel and palette and began mixing the colors I saw on the moth. I applied them to the canvas, smoothing and blending, and scraping off at times.
The next morning the moth was dead and gone when we arrived at the studio but I continued working on the painting that was inspired by this beautiful, magical creature and the wonderful man who brought it to me.
“I think it’s done,” Jeff declared a couple weeks later when I stepped back to evaluate my work.
It was May of 2012. It was the last painting I did before Jeff’s death.
That spring and summer I saw more moths than I’ve ever experienced in my life. It was like they came to visit me silently in our studio, sent there magically somehow by Jeff to let me know that everything was going to be all right.
Painting, preparing, maybe a little fretting…
I’m getting ready for my next solo show. Time is ticking. It’s down to the wire, as they say. I wonder what the origin of that saying is…
Oh, Thanks, Google:
1.informalused to denote a situation whose outcome is not decided until the very last minute.“it was probable that the test of nerves would go down to the wire”
Well, it’s not exactly that. I have in my mind how the show will look and I think it will be well received. It’s just amazing how much time it takes to plan a thing– arranging and rearranging it in your head, diagrams on paper, deliberating, deciding, sourcing objects for an installation portion of the show, and trying not to be distracted by other pressing issues like searching for another rental house that fits in my budget with extra room for a studio.
The theme of this show is Clairsentience.
I love old and vintage things: treasures hunted and inherited. I wonder about how I’m drawn to them, what they mean to me, who they belonged to previously. Monumental objects that require immortalization as well as small almost incidental items that collected dust on a grandmother’s shelf for ages.
“We leave a little of ourselves in the objects that are precious to us.” I’m fascinated by how things become an extension of a person: who and what we construct a person to be from the things they leave behind. Old photos, baby shoes, toys, tools, a favorite teacup…
Clairsentience, also referred to as psychometry or psychometrics, is the ability to perceive the history of an object or person by touching it.
And I’m working to finish one additional painting for the show. A lonely little somersaulting clown. I feel like that little clown, out of control until his gears wind down, next week after a grande opening reception…