Over 10 years I’ve created 55 paintings in the Without a Net series, and last month I finally had the images made into a deck of cards. It was a marvelous and overwhelming moment to hold all that work in my hands for the first time. I had ideas for the deck, but the intentions […]
Tag / self-help
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.)
Join Dori for her next Creativity and Awareness Workshop at Embody Practice Center, Birmingham, AL. Held Saturday, July 28, 2018, this day of gentle introspection and creative exercises in various media will be the best way to take a break from the heat. Embody is a yoga center, and will offer opportunities for diverse […]
My first drawing was of a man. His body was a big, round, wobbly circle and his limbs stuck out like the rays of the sun in all directions, with crooked circles for hands. He was smiling. I still have that drawing, and ever since then I have known I wanted to be an artist. I still have a faded sheet of paper with a list of questions I answered in a first grade quiz, one of them being, What do you want to be when you grow up? I wrote Artist. Fast forwarding many decades finds me still loving making art, as well as teaching it, selling it, and singing the praises of it. I have led a life of non-stop creativity, so I have plenty to say about it. A painting about it seemed impossible, but I gave it a shot.
I looked up ideas online for an animal that might represent creativity. When the spider repeatedly came up as a possibility, I was at first taken aback. Creativity is joyful and often associated with beauty. Spiders are mostly feared and squish-worthy in our culture. But immediately on the heels of my cultural prejudice was the obvious, unassailable, awe-inspiring, perfect fact that spiders make gorgeous art all the time. I was easily converted to a spider-lover. Out of all the fascinating types to chose from, I chose the jumping spider simply because it caught my eye. Ironically, the jumping spider makes no web, but does make a cozy little tent to hide in at night. Because my paintings veer far from reality on a regular basis, I saw no problem in setting my new friend on a web.
When I was a girl I wanted to be a princess. I had stacks of coloring books, and I would only color the pages that depicted lovely ladies in ornate gowns. I drew pretty women all day long, including during class at school. I wanted to go as a princess every Halloween, and would have preferred we lived in a time where evening gowns were a regular part of our wardrobes. My definition of good fine art was the frilliest Rococo paintings with delicate ladies on swings reaching their pointy toes in the air to reveal a bit of their ample petticoats. At the time I lived in a small mountain town where almost everyone wore jeans and t-shirt every day.
This painting was a throwback to my days of being enthralled with princesses. After years of drawing and coloring them, I felt I owed it to myself to paint one. And then I gave the princess the head of a tiger cub. Even though I adored fanciful girl stuff, I was also an outdoorsy athlete, and a brain. In the time I grew up I would have never made a good, well-bred princess for real. The tiger is roaring (or maybe meowing, at that age) with a manner unfitting for her apparent station. In the background are power lines, an indicator that her indoor set-up might not be lodged on the grounds of a grand palace. She looks uncomfortable and off-balance in her chair. She tries hard to play the princess part, but she can’t escape the fact that she’s based in reality. The shadow she casts is stiff and pointy, not in keeping with her flowing surroundings.
This painting shows, among other things, the contrast in my life of having been encouraged to express my old-fashioned womanliness in a time when Helen Reddy’s “I Am Woman Hear Me Roar” was playing in the background. On a deeper level the painting offered me reflection on how my characteristics can contradict each other and befuddle me, especially until I learn to free myself from over-identifying with them.
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.”
When giving a talk about my paintings, a member of the audience saw this piece and said, “ You’re not fat. How does this mind state pertain to you?” Before I could speak up, another person called out, “It’s about over-indulgence in general,” making me wish I had a co-explainer with me at all times.
While immoderation comes in many forms, I focus here on eating because it is one of my go-to pacifiers. I did another painting that portrayed food, as in cupcakes, but it referred to the concept of temptation. The hippo here has already succumbed to temptation. And has kept going.
In this painting there is a big round animal in the middle of a pile of food. This is one of the most literal paintings I’ve done, so there’s not much explanation needed. I wanted the overpowering pile to engulf the figure, so the food does not realistically recede into the background around the hippo. The perspective is skewed so that the food is as big and front-stage at the top as it is on the bottom. Looming, I wanted it to be.
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.