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’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?
My latest show opened on Friday, March 4th during Winston-Salem Art District’s monthly gallery hop. Delurk Gallery became the temporary home for some of my most beloved objects.
My paintings (still life and abstracts) were combined with installations, recreating familiar moments in a grandparent’s home–like playing on a knit quilt the floor as a child, viewing vintage and antique items arranged in an heirloom glass door shelf, or the surreal scenario of self as a clown in front of a dressing table.
The items brought the viewer back to a familiar past; the paintings activated their imaginations. A group of young men stood around, intently examining each one of my paintings and discussing them, sharing what stories were conjured in their minds when they looked at my work.
A couple of women commented on my painting of a clown toy, asking if the bells on his pants were strategically placed by me–they were amused by what the placement made them think of. They thought it was playful and fun.
I was delighted by the number of people who looked and smiled, reminiscing. Many read my statement, nodding unselfconsciously, and connecting with my sentiment. People were loving my work and asking who the artist was, eager to meet me, ask questions, and share their reactions. It was overwhelmingly positive. I felt like a star!
Conversations with Lilly
Lilly is a painting of my favorite sculpture who lives in my living room. From the time I met her she has provided comfort; that’s why I had to paint her–it’s a portrait of a friend.
Let’s see where she’s been…
Who is Lilly? What’s her history? Maybe that’s another blog post…Anybody interested?
It’s been over three years. You’ve been dead for longer than I knew you now. There is still this raw piece of my heart, this hurt that I work to keep buried, but that sometimes surfaces unexpectedly. I try to keep it secret, thinking that nobody wants to hear about you, that part of “moving on” and healing is to not talk about you, worried that I’ll make my current boyfriend feel jealous, scared of making people feel sad, or making people think I’m wallowing in grief or using it all selfishly just to get attention. But it’s there, always, on the outskirts, sometimes appearing again in my artwork. I guess it always will be. When those images of you flash back I try to bury them again, hoping it doesn’t show on my face. What is a healthy way to keep someone who’s dead in your heart? How much should one reminisce, honor, worship the dead? How does one navigate how much to let go of and how much to cherish still? I guess it depends on how important they were in life. You were a shining wonderful thing in my life, the answer to what I always looked for; I fucking adored you! One minute you were alive, loving me, and then I found you hanging there, a light extinguished.
This painting is called The Brief Madness of Bliss, part of my thesis work which I dedicated to dealing with my grief associated with my fiance, Jeff Taylor’s, suicide.
For years I’ve painted things, my things – objects I’ve collected and inherited, positioned in an eccentric contrivance or a more conventional arrangement, sometimes nestled among abstract expressionist elements. Monumental objects that require immortalization as well as small almost incidental items that collected dust on a grandmother’s shelf for ages.
Now I’d like to combine my passion and my need to support myself. I’m available for commissions (various sizes and prices to fit your needs.) Send me a photo of your cherished, heirloom, beloved, item and I can reproduce it in paint so you can display an oil paint reproduction of your item next to the beloved item, or split up the heirloom and it’s intricate reproduction so you can keep one and your ever-squabbling sibling can keep the other, allowing everyone to enjoy said heirloom.
Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org