Entries from December 30th, 2014

Prairie (first draft)

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Prarie

Yesterday I started a prairie painting. This time of year, wind moves across the prairie and shakes the water, dry grasses, bird feathers, and walkers into a kind of weathered, worshipful submission.

I don’t know how to paint the prairie; artistically, it has always baffled me. Like the overwhelming stimuli of a field, the prairie gives me aesthetic overload. I’m working from memory and feeling, not from photographs, and sketching what imprinted as I stood out there, watching and listening.

Painting has gotten safe lately, and a little formulaic. I need to get lost in a painting, to get in over my head and find my way out. The prairie seems like a good place to not know what I’m doing. It’s too big, wild, and complex to get it all, or get it right. Instead, I’m going to try to let it get me.

The Meadow

Monday, December 29, 2014

The Meadow
48 x 72″

The Meadow began as a field. It was supposed to be an untamed, scraggly, even unattractive place. It certainly wasn’t supposed to have flowers. As the painting unfolded, my dad went into the hospital twice, almost dying. My mom suffered a serious fall, and her dear friend was diagnosed with two kinds of cancer. I left a relationship because the love wasn’t mutual, and I learned that the enchanted house I rented for nearly three years would soon be sold. Change everywhere, much of it hard and beyond my control.

As I was close to finishing the field painting, I attended a training in which the participants suggested we put the questions we may or may not have time to discuss in a metaphorical “parking lot.”  The facilitators proposed that we instead call this metaphorical place a meadow, as a meadow is admittedly a nicer place to wait for a ride that may or may not come. We laughed and agreed, and taped a paper to the wall that said “The Meadow.”

We didn’t get around to talking about most of what went into the meadow, but it was a friendly place that filled up throughout the week. I like to imagine our unanswered questions and ideas live on there as unrealized possibilities, creating secret relationships with each other that we’ll never see.

Of all life’s possibilities, only some will take root and grow to fruition. Each time we choose a direction, we eliminate myriad options. As for what takes off and what doesn’t, we only have so much power. We can love, but others may not love us in return. We can hope and plan and wish, we can plant seeds all over a life, but as Thich Nhat Hanh has written, when conditions are insufficient, things do not manifest. In the end, life supports only some of what we want, dream of, hope for. It claims many, many possibilities before they ripen–some before they ever take root.

I returned from the training and approached the field painting. Something wasn’t right. The colors were too sharp and harsh. I wasn’t ready for a field. I needed a way to honor the unanswered questions and false starts of my own life, the near and actual losses of the year, the ways I’d invested myself without a discernible return. I needed a meadow.

The Flowers Are Coming

Monday, December 22, 2014

I couldn’t ignore it: The field needed flowers. The other way–crisp, perfect, clean, and sterile–a green field without flowers–no place I’d want to be. No place to take off my shoes, sweat under the sun, no place for children to run.

So I’m taking the risk and adding flowers. Childish flowers. The flowers I would have wanted to see and paint as a child, the flowers I still want now. Just the outlines first, then the colors. The flowers are coming with their colors.

Last night a friend in his mid-thirties who still snuggles with a teddy bear asked me, “At what age is it creepy to still sleep with a teddy bear?”  “Oh, you’re well past that age, whatever it is,” I laughed, adding, “Can you keep your eye out for a good bear for me?” If it’s never too late for a happy childhood, by all means, sign me up.

My parents loved me, but childhood was still pretty miserable. Poverty and stress and intergenerational trauma will do that to you. Today I’m much happier.  Today I paint places my little girl self would want to visit, teddy bear in one grubby hand, flowers in the other.

The Field (in process)

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The Field

“Out beyond ideas of wrong-doing and right-doing,
there is a field.
I’ll meet you there.”

Rumi

For the past several weeks, I’ve been working on a 4 x 6′ painting of a field. Here’s a picture of it from last week; it has developed a lot since I took this photo and is now almost done.

Why paint a field? Visually, I find them boring and overwhelming–all that information, but little differentiation in form. Too, fields are rarely destinations, especially the tangled fields common in North Central Florida. They exist at the edges of life, with no maintenance, yet somehow sustain themselves. This self-maintaining quality is what drew me to paint a field.

The fields in my imagination are unkempt, scraggly places, where vaguely discernible patterns emerge and recede, and life grows and dies and rises up again without a fuss. When I experience uncertainty and difficulty, it helps me to remember that the field can be a metaphor for living–I can watch and support my life much as the field does–with curiosity, acceptance, and a kind of benevolent detachment for what does and does not naturally sustain itself there.

Art for Art

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Art for Art

Over the weekend, I traded this painting for a wonderful painting by the artist Victor Perez. Our work is very different, and that’s why the trade was so fun. I got a piece I love, but could have never painted. Victor got a painting from me that he technically could have painted, but probably never would, because that’s just not the way art comes out of him.

I’d like to trade more paintings for more art. Though I’ve sold my work for cash and will continue to, I always struggle when I have to put a numerical value on a piece. I worry that I’m both underpricing and overpricing my work, and neither option feels good. But trading, that’s a different story–I’ve swapped one creation for another, and for my creative labor, I get to reap the benefit of someone else’s. I have no sense of an unfair exchange: Win-win.

Trade, anyone?

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