Monday, July 1, 2013

Painting my guts out - dare I show you how I really feel?

I'm working on accessing the part of me that has free access to creativity and flow.  It's not an easy place for me to find sometimes.  I just went to see a coach today to help me find that place again.  When I was doing Beyond Barbie, I was in the flow.  When I was doing One Billion Rising and speaking in Paris, I was in the flow.  I felt energized and excited and woke up each day knowing what I had to do and ready, willing, and able to do it.

In between those events, I had periods that felt crappy and depressive.  I haven't been able to find the flow.  I've been stuck and blocked and depressed and I don't know what else.  And I don't know why.  What has helped me break through is having something to work on - as soon as I heard about One Billion Rising, I knew that was the next right thing.  But I can't wait for someone else to come up with the next right thing.  I have to be able to find my own thing that makes me feel like there's a great reason I'm alive - and working as an artist.  I love feeling vital and excited and like I'm doing something that makes a good difference in people's lives.  When I don't have that, UGH! 

A couple of weeks ago, I had an image of painting a huge painting - not of anything in particular - just throwing paint - literally - smearing whatever I wanted to for whatever reason I wanted.  Chris helped me arrange the studio and staple a piece of canvas on the wall, 6'x10'.  It stayed there a couple of days until I decided I simply had to approach it and see what came out.  I woke up knowing I was supposed to paint a lily.  I went to the store and bought a lily.  I've written about that piece in a previous blog:

This past weekend, Chris and I re-arranged the living room and stapled the canvas to our wall in there so now I have the joy of seeing it each time I come down the stairs in the morning.  I'm liking it!

When we took that canvas down, Chris and I immediately stapled up a new one.  I timidly tried to paint on it the next day.  I couldn't think of anything to do.  I didn't want to do the same thing and start a series of huge paintings of flowers - what the hell will I do with them if I do that?  And besides, these are supposed to be blow-out pieces which are unpredictable - a place I allow myself to do whatever comes out.

I tried to start like I started the other one - by painting the words "Fat, Juicy, Loose".  I decorated them, made them pretty.  The words trailed off.  I stopped.  I was completely bored.

The canvas languished for several days.  I asked a friend to come over to help.  I talked about the issues, blah, blah, blah, about how I was blocked.  Then, brilliantly, she asked me what the block looked like.  I started to tell her, then I said, "I'll show you."  I went over to the canvas and painted it.  Then I painted through it, painted the energy flowing through me instead of being blocked.  I put on gloves and smeared paint all over the canvas.  I used up several tubes of paint.  I scribbled and smeared and pressed into the wall and grunted and dipped and swirled and talked and laughed and moved with energy flowing through me. 
Suddenly the beeper went off.  My friend had to leave.  I told her I'd keep working and thanked her.  When she left, I had no interest in painting more.  I was done.  I sat down and wrote.

Exhausted and Elated
Mud squirted from my senses
corralled as art on canvas
Cad red, cad yellow - bold bright
eradicating deep dark purple, blocked, sludge
Red pours through, my energy color
Pours and pours and spurts and spreads
Purple reasserts itself, travels through and back
smeared from the front
It's there.  The dark is there, mixed with the rest
but I want the Light, the power, the fresh, the new, the God.
Come through me, God, and let me be with you.
Let me be you.  Let me express you.
Burst forth from my heart, my mouth, my hands, my loins - explode and spread
Energy released expressed
two hands rolling, drawing, moving
gloved hands smearing, pushing into the wall
pushing against firm form flat and strong
It can take me, all of me
Energy bursting forth exceding its power.
Gasping, I stop, collapse, breathe, wash, sweat, write, finish.

That wore me out.  The canvas stayed on the wall several days - I had no thoughts about what else I could do.  Then today I worked with a creativity client and loved the suggestions I was giving her.  I wish someone would give me similar suggestions and make me be accountable to her!  And actually - today I started working with just such a person.  I had that appointment at 2.  When I left there I tried to find something to do - get my oil changed, go grocery shopping - whatever I could to distract myself from going home.  Eventually I got home and came out to the studio.  It is so hard to be out here sometimes.  It's where I have to, if I let myself, face myself and my dark and my fears and my blocks.  Painting is not easy.  Doing real work is not easy.  This is not a weeny career.  It is much harder than anything else I've ever done.

I started by working on an abstract piece I'm interested in, but I don't know why I'm interested in it.  Or didn't.  I figured it out later.  It's a triangle, and what I worked with in the big piece was another sort of triangle - a relationship triangle - fascinating that I did it quiet and pretty and slow and gentle, then did it as I describe below - very differently.  But the same stuff...

After doing that a while, I got tired of myself and tired of the discomfort I was feeling and realized that I could probably relieve it if I would just approach that same canvas and pile more stuff on top.  I wrote the words I needed to write.  Painting them huge, scrawled across the canvas released the emotion with the paint.  More words came.  I'd already painted one image on the canvas a few days ago.  I painted a complementary one.  They're private.  I'm not ready to share what they were. I painted another image, on top of the writing, the flow, the scrawl, the red.  Each stroke was a release, a vindication, a prayer, a promise, a tear, a fear, a choice, a bit of healing. 

I can see the canvas from where I'm sitting.  I don't know if I'll ever be able to share it.  It would offend some people.  Others would judge the images, judge the words, be put off by the harshness of it.  Some would understand, I think.  Most would feel the emotion behind it.

But what would they do with it?  Could I really let others see what is so real, so completely authentic, so full of some of my deepest feelings?  We all have pain and hardship in our lives.  We make different choices about what to do with it.  Some of us can share it with dear ones in a safe place.  I am blessed to be able to do that with Chris, with excellent therapists, with dear and trusted friends.  Some of us pass on the pain and suffering to others, unskillfully, because we don't have the skills/courage/ability to be aware of it and process it and heal and move on.

In our society, we tend to be afraid of emotions, especially strong, "bad" ones like anger and resentment - ones that cause people to act out in violent ways, primarily.

I don't know what people would think it they saw this work.  Would they be triggered?  Would they feel compassion?  disgust?  empathy?  rage that I had the gall to paint it?  I simply don't know.  And right now I don't feel safe enough to share it except with Chris and perhaps a few trusted friends - but the wrong words said, even lovingly, could be hurtful.  Clearly I'm not detached enough from it to share it. 

Art is so potentially powerful.  I can understand the Abstract Expressionists - they were able to get their feelings right out there on the canvas, but no one had to know what they were saying, because the images were abstract - think of Jackson Pollock.  Very clever.

So...  No resolution at this point!  No deep clarity.  Just process.  No product here!  I'm happy to be working.  I'm curious about where this will lead, if anywhere.  I'm thankful for the chance to feel and to express.  And excited to get back in the studio tomorrow.  A gift.


  1. I can often expose my feelings (visually or verbally) without a qualm. If people want to draw conclusion, well, that's them, not me. The exception? Anything even approaching my relationships with siblings and parents stays hidden.

    I wasn't this cautious when I was younger, but accumulating years and experience inevitably includes accumulating damage. When I was young, I did not know how deep wounds could be, nor how resistant to healing.

    On the other hand, as you recognize, (cliche alert!) if art isn't real, it isn't art. How to resolve this?

    Making art and sharing art are two different phases of the process. Making art requires fearlessness. Sharing art does not. I suspect avoiding extremes is the path to take--sharing without restraint can be as misguided as never sharing anything. An exploration as significant as you've described will not, I suspect, be exhausted by one canvas. E.G., working on the large canvas and on the abstract piece certainly seem to be inter-connected. Privacy then becomes crucial, because it insures the authenticity of your later work, even if "later" in this case means years from now.

    Boil it all down, and it means trust yourself. You don't want to share yet? I'm not going to argue with you, or think less of your courage. Fear may be part of your reluctance, but couldn't your artistic intuition be trying to tell you something, too?

    I've written this mini-essay, and just realized all it amounts to is a re-statement of what you said more succinctly in your last paragraph: "No resolution . . . just process . . . working . . . where this will lead."

    Best wishes for the journey.