I’m in the forest, approaching a small log cabin overlooking a still cool lake, a snowy mountain in the distance. I step back, startled by a sweet little fawn creeping through pine needles. As I step back I trip over a branch, I mean the rug; I’m back in my studio…
I’m painting a picture of a picture, a vintage picture painted on a slab of wood with visible tree trunk edges which sits on a fancy vintage hand crafted shelf. The light makes fun shadows on the wall.
When I look back at the photo of this in-process painting I’m fooled into thinking this is a photo of the actual object. The small ceramic deer looks three dimensional with the shadow projected on the painting behind it. Wow… trompe l’oeil! This is fun!
Nope. Not pregnant. Ha ha! This baby is on the way to her next display location, to hang around and wait for the right person to purchase her as a holiday gift for that special someone. Because, after all, doesn’t everyone need a painting of a baby doll hanging from a nail.
Actually, I love this one. I wouldn’t mind at all if she never gets sold. I have the perfect spot for her in my house.
He was a beautiful corpse. That phrase keeps popping up in my mind. I think it’s the first line of my book. The book that’s inside me that I need to write.
I keep painting about him, hinting, being ambiguous, hoping others will connect with my paintings because they are slightly vague and more universally appealing, and at the same time including specific details so the people who knew him and loved him will recognize that my work is about him.
My book will be very specific. It will probably be described as heart wrenchingly tragic but sweetly beautiful. Certain people will probably disapprove and want me to keep quiet. But there will come a time when that swirl of feelings, visions, emotions leap out of me and into an organized pattern of words that tell the story.
In the meantime, I’ll keep painting. Now it’s his leather jacket. There’s still a cigarette butt in the pocket.
A work in progress….
Sometimes I carefully select the objects in my paintings and arrange them to tell a specific story. Other times I simply select several items I’m drawn to for unknown reasons, arrange them in a way that looks pleasing to me, and then paint what I see. And then wonder what it means.
This is a recent painting of mine. It’s of three random items that just seemed to go together. An arrangement I stuck on my wall without much conscious thought.
It consists of a small knick-knack, a jewelry holder that would have sat on a woman’s bureau to maybe hold her rings or a necklace when she took them off at night — a trinket to hold trinkets. An old skeleton key on a red ribbon and some dried flowers hang behind it.
What does it mean? Does it hint at the impermanence of life, the delicateness of all things? Do you see the possibility of the plaster of the wall crumbling away, the nail slipping, and it all falling to the floor and crashing into pieces? Or does the light just look warm and make you feel good, like sunshine on a spring day?
Perhaps the items were hung on the wall long ago – a key to a lover’s cabin in the woods tied to a ribbon red like the blood that rushes to flush her cheeks when you kiss her, some flowers she tucked behind her ear one day on a walk through the field…
…Items stuck on the wall to collect dust for years until a great grand-daughter cleaned out the house for the estate sale. Maybe there’s a black widow spider hiding behind the ribbon ready to bite in defense when disturbed. Maybe…
I don’t know, maybe it’s just some crap I bought at a yard sale (but I doubt it.)
It doesn’t really ever stop. It doesn’t go away. The hurt. The empty space.
And you never stop being a widow.
Even if after only a year you think you’re stuck (and wonder about the possibility that you may be holding him back from somewhere he’s supposed to move on to) and you push yourself to let go of some things and move forward. Even if you allow yourself to be manipulated by someone who says your grief is unhealthy and calls you “Courtney Love” and says you weren’t really a widow because you weren’t legally married in an attempt to dismantle your very identity and discount your experiences but at the same time convinces you he loves you and wants to be with you (despite his wife’s objections!) Even if you don’t talk about it, trying to avoid triggering this narcissistic new boyfriend who’s jealous of the dead guy. It’s all still there.
Even when three years goes by after you’ve eliminated the narcissist who tried his best to replace the dearest sweetest most brilliant person in the world and left you even more scarred and scared but in different ways, it’s still there. But now you’re free to express yourself without censorship.
Even when five years goes by, the shock of finding the dearest sweetest most brilliant person in the world hanging from a carefully constructed rope never leaves. It washes over you still sometimes in a giant wave that disrupts the current moment, makes you drop what you’re doing and work to wrap your head around it once again. The images don’t erase themselves. And you don’t want them to. In that image there is also incredible peace on his face. He was calm, his body relaxed. He stopped the hurt.
And you never stop being a widow.
The shirt. His shirt. The shirt he wore the first time I laid eyes on him. The time I fell madly in love with him, when I felt as if I’d found something I’d been looking for all my life. When I stopped looking and it walked in the door of the gallery with a big warm smile, carrying a newly finished sculpture. I think I stopped breathing
He was beautiful and brilliant and funny. That jacket still feels like him. Even though it’s gone through the wash. I can’t wear it. It feels too heavy.
“Her series of still lifes are a case in point, “full of texture and shadows, sad and happy at the same time.” A cherub gambols amid toys. A stuffed animal bunny poses with a skull. Her paintings seem to understand ephemera as treasure. There are no people represented, except indirectly, and so there are people everywhere. These are strange, unexpected communities, where the softness of life coexists with the hard and mechanical, where loss is palpable, but so is survival, and where difference becomes a risk worth taking.”
Read the full article, written by my dear friend Chael Needle, here…
In 2016 I was the proud recipient of the North Carolina Arts Council and the partnering arts councils of the Regional Artist Project Grant Program. After researching, purchasing and practicing with materials–various mediums and varnishes, and brushes, I decided on a project that would separately show the results of each medium used: linseed oil, walnut oil, stand oil, dammar varnish….blah blah blah…paint terms that only an art geek like me would get excited about…
I decided to produce seven paintings in seven days. It was also serendipitous that I had that week off from my job so I could focus on painting only! Needless to say, I was absolutely in heaven.
I played with the idea of being more open and obvious about the narrative. The paintings were about Jeff, my fiancé who chose to leave this world through suicide. I’ve often debated about how obvious I should make that in my work. The objects, colors, and numbers of things in my paintings are almost always significant, intentional. But should I come right out and say/show Jeff’s name or his likeness? Also, I’m not sure if I’m quite ready to paint a realistic portrait of him, despite his death having occurred over four and a half years ago now.
And then this little troll morphed into Jeff before my eyes. And I found myself smiling as I painted this one!
Halfway though the week I went to see The Women of Abstract Expressionism show. It was fucking fantastic, standing in the midst of these wonderful works by Joan Mitchell, Elaine de Kooning, etc. I wanted to stay there, step into the canvases, into their worlds. But more about that in a future post. Anyway, I was excited to paint some expressionist works again and decided to make the last two of the seven abstract.
Here are the finished #7in7 which I will probably end up working on more–more layers in the abstracts, more colors in the shadows of the still life, more brown in that moth, more frayed threads sticking out of the bare spot below the bear’s eye…..
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. Have I mentioned I am a grateful recipient!