Recently my good friend Kerry Madden-Lunsford, took a deck of my Without a Net cards to a maximum security prison in Alabama where she taught a creative writing course to prisoners. At Donaldson Correctional Facility in Bessemer, she offered my cards for interpretation and story prompts. My next several posts will feature some of the […]
Category / Writing
I spent a two week residency in the breathtaking mountains of north Georgia, writing, painting, hiking, playing guitar, and interacting with other writers and visual artists. This was my first residency. In my long career of making and selling and teaching art, I’d never indulged in this most luxurious of retreats. I will be feeling its effects for a long time.
(The photo above is my studio table.) See my other blog for more images from hikes and such.
A residency is applied for and awarded. I was humbled to be among the other talented artists who enjoyed this time at Hambidge Residency for Arts and Sciences. There were nine artists total, and each of us had our own house and studio, all tucked away in the woods with enough distance from each other to have total privacy. Four evenings a week we’d gather for dinner, where a chef had prepared us a meal. After dinner we would talk about art and writing and sometimes animal horror stories.
I got an enormous amount of painting done. Not that output was my goal. I would have been satisfied with any amount of work, as long as I felt like I was following my creative impulses. But as it happened, I felt compelled to spend up to 12 hours a day at the easel, absolutely ecstatic to have weeks to paint without distraction. I finished a first coat on ten paintings.
I leave Tuesday for an artist residency at Hambidge Creative Residency Program in North Georgia. A residency is applied for and awarded. For two weeks I will write and paint without distraction due to lack of internet or cell service. I’ll write about my paintings/cards and work on my new body of paintings (to be […]
An article titled, “Me and My Shadow” by teacher and writer Sally Kempton brought to mind how my Without a Net project is an option to spiritual bypassing.
I’ve always been mystified by the people who believe in the put-on-a-happy-face philosophy of life. Sayings like “the past is the past—move on” or “snap out of it” or “cheer up” have never been helpful for the navigation of problems. In fact, they could be considered a little cruel. They ask that you quit being yourself in the moment and act like someone else thinks you should. People who say these things are really saying, “I’m nervous about your hard feelings, so I’m going to demand that you stop making me uncomfortable.” These people are actually uneasy about their dark side and unskilled at expressing it.
Spiritual bypassing has become more common as a term for skipping over our ugly parts with the use of meditation, prayer, or positive thinking. The result is a lack of engagement with our whole self, and an inevitable rebound of ugliness when the concealed issues resurface. In simple words, if we don’t deal with our crap, it will come back to bite us.
I’ve always looked up to dead people. As a lifelong fan of history I’ve felt small and insignificant compared to the pantheon of superstars from all walks of life, whose names and stories are remembered through the ages. I’ve counted as my heroes the ones who made the biggest impact on humanity and our planet. There was a bit of torment in my fanhood. I painted this piece when I kept coming up against the unpleasant reminder that, as enormous as these giants of yesteryear were, they are now gone, and I, little old infinitesimal me, am still here. I have the very human longing to make my mark, express myself, offer my voice, and venture forth into making things happen. But I let a meddlesome comparison—me vs. the greatest minds and hearts that ever lived—make me feel like a peon. Its effect left me expecting less of myself, and daunted by the daring task of getting out in the arena.
I chose to paint my historical friends as colorless plaster busts, a certified gesture commending their monumental contributions, but implying that they bought the farm long ago. To represent myself, I wanted a small animal, but a brightly colored one to contrast the blanched figures that dominate the piece. I attended a bird banding a few years ago, where we caught migrating birds for tagging. Holding a Painted Bunting is like tending a little rainbow. They are indescribably bright, and, like most songbirds, light and delicate. I love it when an animal with which I’ve had a close encounter becomes appropriate for my work. The wallpaper is old fashioned, another nod to history.
Oil on board 2013 16″ x 20″
Someone once told me that my past was my greatest asset. I took it as a prompt to value my experiences in their ability to give clues on the path of transformation. That said, I hated the saying for a long time. There were plenty of experiences I avoided revisiting, and many things about my past that seemed unfair or too difficult to ever expect to find meaning within. Over time, and with the help of this painting series exploration, I have found my past to be an exceptional—although tough and scrupulous—teacher. The pains of looking back and looking inward were sometimes excruciating, so I painted this piece as an homage to faith—a reminder that I would be OK, no matter what I uncovered in this examination.
My animals are inspired by the archetypes of various religions and cultures, and this one is no exception. I chose the sheep, one of the world’s most obvious symbols of faith, as expressed in Christianity. (For those unfamiliar with this symbolism, Jesus is the Good Shepherd who watches over his flock.) I adorned my sheep-girl in a dress I would have loved when I was a kid. The luxury of blue velvet and the high collar give it a Sunday-going-to-meeting feeling. I drew inspiration for the background from some of the morning walks I take on local public paths near my home. Along the trails sunlight pours through trees to cast shadows on green lawns, which can’t help but start my day with a welcoming greeting. Corny, but heavenly.
In my sheep’s hand is a bloody Band-aid, an emblem of childhood wounds, which she holds almost timidly. This small thing near the bottom of the painting, away from the usual focal center of attention mirrored my trepidation at going forward with this painting/writing project, knowing that my shadow side, my past, my secrets, my mistakes, my doubts, and my blindness would be under the microscope.
This piece embodies an offering. I’m offering myself—the good, bad, and whatever— to my own scrutiny, to whoever wanted to look or listen, to God, to nobody. I didn’t feel proud or brave, just willing.
Sometimes life is so confusing that I assume I’m not seeing reality clearly. I’ve had times when I would label myself as crazy, and I’d feel the shame that accompanies such a classification.
I chose a chimpanzee for my painting because they act zany. I dressed him in a straightjacket because that’s where crazy people can end up. A straightjacket is also a metaphor for constraint. I used to feel incarcerated by the maze of thoughts and feelings that converged when situations and people were beyond what I thought I could handle.
I imagined the cast of a circus would sum up the whole idea of crazy with its outlandishly costumed characters and their variety of exaggerated body sizes. What a joy it was portray the clowns and weirdos! I kept the background a monochrome blue to relegate their presence to a dreamlike haze of sameness. They are presumably an influence on the monkey’s craziness, but he stands out on his own as being the main-event nut. (Excuse my use of these politically incorrect words for mental instability. I’m not meaning to be dismissive of real mental illness. I’m using offhand lingo to vaguely sum up a felt state.)
A few years back, with my recent status of Empty Nester, I had the strange and wonderful experience of having (what seemed like) unlimited time, energy, and space at my disposal. Like other newly free moms with whom I spoke, I decided the best word to describe it at the time was Weird. I didn’t hate it but I didn’t love it either. I knew intellectually that there would be an adjustment period, but my equilibrium took it more seriously. I felt shock, ecstasy, and confusion all at once, mixed with an inability to sit still and a constant feeling that there was something that needed to be done when there really wasn’t anything that needed to be done.
I didn’t want to fill the void with the first impulses to come along. I wanted to leave the time and space empty for a bit, hoping that a new direction would radiantly unfold. I had a sense that just about anything could be next for me, that a whole new world was up for grabs, and I wanted to be as open as possible about which new ideas and prospects would take hold in my life. This painting asked to come to life, a representation of all the possibilities at my feet.
I was walking on a sidewalk at night and saw a cute skunk up ahead. It moved around a little, but did not get off the sidewalk. My common sense kicked in instinctively, and I stopped in my tracks. I marveled at how this cuddly, furry little creature commanded such respect. Even top predators know what a force the skunk is, and avoid it if they have any sense. Skunks know how to set boundaries. It occurred to me that I too was making space for myself and setting boundaries at that time, because I was on a silent retreat at a monastery.
I go to a monastery twice a year to partake in a self-imposed time of silence—usually a few days. There are monasteries of different religions, and most are gorgeous, out-of-the-way places where generations of practicing monastics have been praying, meditating and living for over a century. I most frequently go to the Benedictine Sisters Retreat at Sacred Heart Monastery in Alabama, but I’ve been to Magnolia Grove in Mississippi, a Buddhist monastery under the auspices of the Vietnamese monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, to Yogaville, Virginia, an ashram started by Swami Satchidananda, and Thomas Merton’s Gesthemane, a Trappist Monk Abbey in Kentucky. When I’m home I get asked by curious friends, “What do you do there?” The answer is, “Nothing.”
Dori DeCamillis announces her first ever Without a Net workshop to be held at Red Dot Gallery in Birmingham, AL, Saturday, February 25. This exciting workshop will offer participants creative exercises in various artistic media that explore personal mind states and perspectives in a judgment-free setting. With humor and self-acceptance as touchstones, participants will explore […]