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Without a Net

Daring Starts From Within

Who Wrote This?

Some time after writing or painting a work, I can look at my piece with more objectivity and freshness, almost as if someone else made the work.  Whether I like the work or not is not nearly as interesting as what it feels like to hear/see myself as an outsider might. Even more curious is the idea that I am seeing the work not as just any outsider, but with my own personal way of seeing art. I’m usually surprised that the writing reads more coherently than I expected, or that the painting has some subtle weirdness that I’m kind of proud of. Once in a while I’ll think, “Damn, that’s good,” and other times, “What crazy inner editor let this pass inspection?”

Eudora Welty wrote the following words about her experience with this phenomenon, revealing how vulnerable even the very accomplished artist feels when sharing her vision and seeing her own creations as if for the first time.

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Thy Self Away

IMG_1069

I’d drawn the nude many times in classes and studio settings, but I’d never painted one. I’d certainly never created a finished piece of one. So this painting was a challenge on several levels. I wanted to portray the idea of exposure.

The process of making my Without a Net series requires exposure, and sharing it with others pushes it farther. In going forward with my artwork (and a few other things) I partly want to show myself and at the same time I want to hide. I chose the peacock to portray half of this idea because it popped into my head as a most showy of animals. And to represent the side of me that feels exposed, I could think of no outfit better than the birthday suit, and some feeble attempts to cover up the most private parts.

The act of painting the piece was, as I said, a challenge simply because for the first time I would be presenting a finished painting of a nude. I had plenty of reasons to be level-headed about it. My former training had given me a clinical outlook on rendering anything. My state of adulthood and its accompanied experience has given me at least the average amount of maturity in regards to showing the human figure. My years as an art historian have given me a thorough acquaintance with the nude represented in a thousand different ways. None of it stopped my childlike embarrassment about painting a naked lady for all the world to see! And boy, how that feeling was appropriate for the mind state I was depicting.

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Herein Lies Wisdom

elephant

16″ x 20″ Oil on Board

I love elephants. I see them as wise, intuitive, devoted, patient, and perceptive. I see these qualities in myself sometimes, and sometimes I just aspire to them.

Wisdom is big concept and an easily-tossed-around word. In the spirit of not over-thinking things, I sought to be in touch with a wisdom that an elephant might have. Mysterious, deep, timeless. It is not analytical or clever. Wisdom comes from a place deeper than my intellect and my emotions. It comes from a clear and eternal place within.

My paintings were originally inspired in part by animal deities of the Hindu tradition. I couldn’t help but call to mind Ganesh, the elephant-headed God, when I began this piece. At first I imagined my wisdom painting would depict references to ornate and colorful religious iconography, but the more I allowed the idea of wisdom to percolate, the simpler I wanted the imagery to be.

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The World’s Fresh Ornament

samuri duck

After I had done several paintings in the Without a Net series, I noticed a pattern. The traits I was depicting all represented some way I escaped or tolerated or managed a discomfort inside. They were all forms of armor, so I tried to imagine what I’d feel like without any protection at all. Right away the baby duck emerged as the winning candidate for the role in my painting. They are adorable and funny-looking, and quite helpless.

I decided to outfit the defenseless little duck with the amount of defensive covering I felt like I’d been using, an amount I’d only recently become privy to after getting real with myself through my paintings. My artwork had revealed to me how much of my behavior and motives were fueled by my protective responses.

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I Saw Anne Lamott

Last night I went to see the writer, Anne Lamott, speak. She was just like I imagined. Along with being funny, irreverent, and exuberant about letting us know how imperfect we are (and how great that is) she read us a Facebook post she’d just written. It was about, among other things, how damaged we humans are by age 5. Since I had just been talking about that very thing with my sister, Dana, it has spurred me to want to explore this idea in a painting. More to come on that subject. For now, here’s a link to Anne’s Facebook post. It’s also about being grateful and living one day at a time.

A big thank you to Anne Lamott for putting herself out there for so many years. Her bravery in revealing the good, the bad, and the flabby parts of herself have been a light for those of us who want to do the same.

Her Tender Heir Might Bear Her Memory

mamabear

My kid was getting picked on in school, and it made me very angry. It surprised me how riled up I got. I painted this piece during that time, and choosing the animal to symbolize my reactions was easy. I have a history with bears.

In Colorado during the time I grew up, bears were almost completely hunted out. Even my outdoorsman dad went many years without running into one. Even so, I had an overblown fear of them. When I was elementary school age I read an article in the Reader’s Digest about a man in Alaska who was mauled by a bear and had to crawl for miles without legs to get help. (Or some equally disgusting story.) I had nightmares for months, and was very shy about how far I would go into the wilderness alone. Since the wilderness was literally right out our front door, it made for some limited enjoyment of the endless natural wonders around me. I never lost my apprehension about bears.

I was 13 when I had my first bear encounter. I was not far from our house, and I was rounding up my horse to put him in his corral. I turned to see the bear, and I ran and screamed. I’d been trained for years about what not to do when you see a bear, and that is, do not run and scream. The bear came after me, but I got to the house in plenty of time. This was the first of many bear encounters, which tend to happen most times I set foot in the woods. Hippies would say I’m attracting them with my weird bear energy, and in the South they say I’ve “called it up.”

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Disdain the Tillage of Thy Husbandry

Disdain the Tillage

This piece started with the desire to portray something about the battle of the sexes. It’s hard to be a human and not encounter some misunderstanding and frustration with the opposite sex. I decided to explore this theme when my husband was annoying me enough that it brought up an age-old attitude to which I am no stranger. It’s the “men are a bunch of jerks” outlook. It’s easy to intellectualize my way out of this feeling. I can reason that it’s not a useful attitude, that men can say the same thing about women, that it’s over-reactive, over-generalized, and melodramatic. But sometimes I succumb to aggravation and fall into the habit of blaming half the population for being different than I am.

I chose the Ruby-Throated Hummingbird as my animal for a few reasons. At first glance they are delicate, lovely creatures—feminine and flowing in movement and line. But anyone who has a feeder knows that they are also territorial and aggressive. And another thing. Unlike most flock birds who help each other by flying in formations, tiny hummingbirds migrate 600 miles alone across the Gulf of Mexico from Central and South America in every kind of messy weather. They are considered the macho species of migrating birds. I chose to portray the male hummingbird in my painting, with its bright red neck. As is the case with many bird species, the male is the prettier of the genders. All of these incongruous and opposing traits touch on contrasting ideas of masculine and feminine.

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To Eat the World’s Due

mouse

Painting this one was difficult because I got hungry looking at cupcakes the whole time. I felt like the mouse in the center, wanting to resist something that looks so enticing. My intention was to paint temptation.

I painted a mouse because he’s small, with his object of affection looming large. And mice have mousetraps. Every successful mousetrap is evidence of the power of temptation. As for the cupcakes, my gallery/studio is right next to a cupcake store, so I see the prettiest, sweetest-smelling treats everyday, and had access to easily paint them. But my use of them here is only for symbolic and visual effect. They are not my treat of choice.

Temptations don’t start out being so irresistible. They can be a comforting way of managing or softening the effects of difficulties. It’s when I use them repeatedly as a coping mechanism that they get harder to resist. Eventually, if the same coping tool is reached for repeatedly, there comes the time when the object of attraction becomes an automatic habit so ingrained I barely recognize it. I make excuses for doing it. I don’t realize how important I’ve made it. It becomes a drug of sorts.

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Buriest Thy Content

Buriest Thy Content

Around the time I wanted to start this painting, we had a cockroach infestation at our house. (This means I saw more than 4 in one day. The exterminator said this was by no means anything like a true infestation.) Nevertheless, I saw the cockroaches as disgusting, invasive, and impossible to get rid of. The roach became an easy first choice when I tried to come up with a creature to represent the critical, overly analytical thoughts I sometimes get while painting. They come straight from my art training in academia and have little to do with art or education.

In these messy encounters, a long list of considerations run through my mind that dissect my creative process, the end result of my work, the way I might sell it in the future, its relevance to art history, how it might be perceived by a wide-array of viewers, and whether it is important, poignant, smart, catchy, unique, or relevant. In other words, I pick my art to pieces. The cockroach represents those times when I allow those old “professors in my head” to make art a whole lot less fun than it should be.

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