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 / surreal
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.)
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.
I like to think I’m an accepting person who treats people without prejudice. But this painting came about when I caught myself being cynical and judgmental in spite of myself. Even as I admitted that I was being judgmental, a thought-string of excuses trailed close behind, hoping to erase the idea of examining my mean habit too closely. Everybody does it, the excuses said. It’s normal, it’s human nature. I went forward with the painting anyway, because whether everyone does it or not, it was becoming uncomfortable for me.
I started to become aware of how I sometimes pretend it’s fine to be annoyed with others. Not only did I sometimes feel disgruntled thoughts about people, I often entertained others with explanations about my observations and opinions. I can make an art out of relaying clever stories about people who annoy me, complete with funny imitations and a didactic punch line about the way “good” people should do things. This encourages listeners to add their own story about a similar experience so I can feel validated in my mudslinging. In the South we often use the phrase “bless her heart” (or his) which follows a badmouthing rant, implying that we mean no harm, and we wish the person well. Most people giggle after they say it, knowing that it really means “you can let me off the hook for saying these things, but that person really is a jerk.” I usually follow my badmouthing with a humorous chastisement of myself for being so judgmental, a feeble attempt to excuse my behavior.
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.”
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.