"Dreaming with God"
Completed June 3, 2016.
30"x40" acrylics on canvas.
See here for the process in .gif form: http://gifcreator.me/viewgif/20160604-12-ylpFxA7KTCb0NQBk-YfSxG5
See here for blog/easy to read format: http://fav.me/da54d46
We'll dive right into this one:
I started this painting about two years ago, probably just a few months short of messing up my arm during my infamous painting spree. Looking back at some of the initial process pictures, it actually ended up not looking too far off from the original vision -- though I did deviate quite a few times along the way.
This piece likely embodies themes from all of my work to date, which makes it incredibly hard to write about. I completed the bulk of it during several different emotional "breakdowns" -- those moments where life took unexpected turns and I felt the most helpless and the most lost, confused, angry, exhausted, sick, etc. I actually don't believe my first few brushstrokes were born of these emotions, it's just that this canvas is pretty big and was hanging on my wall incomplete for the longest time -- by default, I often figured that scribbling on it was the safest route to go when I needed to release any tension.
Most of last year, this was a painting of a black circle that I'd occasionally add ideas to with chalk. Since I was unable to paint, I found myself laying in bed a lot, counting the dots on my ceiling or staring at the black circle, which didn't give me such a great feeling -- this black circle was my first attempt at painting in probably six months, and I remember that it hurt the entire time. With my left hand, I'd tried again and it started to take the form of a figure and a flamingo ... maybe the center of an eye .. in any event, it was all over the place, so I stopped.
I started working on it again in the Fall after starting another piece. I was ecstatic because my pain had diminished, physical therapy was coming to and end, and I thought I was going to be able to paint again. I started to revert it back to just a black hole and eliminated the figure and flamingo, still unsure about my vision. All along, I'd wanted this to be a simple picture of a bunch of enormous minnows swimming on a pretty basic background, so I added the fish I'd originally been thinking of.
Of course, then I began dealing with a few conversations that admittedly were a little messy and caused me a great deal of grief; I spent one of which actually painting the main fish that survived and made it to the end of this whole process. I used a clear tar gel to elevate its scales so that they would feel lifelike -- I wanted to use this technique through the whole piece, but we'll get to why I didn't later.
Everything in life since then has seemed to resurrect a similar grief. My pain came back and I finally scheduled an appointment with a surgeon; when I met him, I was already under a lot of stress, so maybe that's why I was really put off by his personality. He told me quite frankly that I needed surgery. 6 months recovery. Therapy blah blah blah throughout. Another hiatus. I left the doctor's office in tears.
This became the start of an ongoing series of low-points in my life where I found myself crying in some obscure bathroom stall, trying to pull myself together enough to go to work. I recorded all of these emotional moments on the back of this canvas. The interesting this is that, in all the times this has happened, there's l always been a familiar face around the corner -- I ran into a friend on my way out, hugged him, complained a little, laughed, and went to work.
The time between then and when I started to paint again seems sort of irrelevant to write about, as most of what happened didn't involve much art. However, I think it did contribute quite a lot to my mental state when I finally picked up a paintbrush again. Feel free to read on if you like, or else skip ahead if you're more interested in the technical stuff.
Surgery: So I had my surgery at the end of 2015, just a few days after Christmas. Life between the summer and the winter felt like sort of a buffer ... it wasn't really anything I'd choose to experience again. In the back of my mind, I had a sense that my life was heading towards drastic change and there would be nothing I could do about it. I tried not to get too caught up in my premonitions of sadness, but they were always there, alongside the constant physical pain. I also was having a lot of nightmares, which are really difficult for me because my nightmares almost always come true. I'd venture a guess that it was a combination of anxiety and prescribed pain medicine that made wake up and get sick some mornings -- ugh, without moping too much, I'll say December was an awful month.
My bitterness poured over into January, which was even worse! I can't really say that there were many people in my life at that point; everyone had their reasons for being absent, some legitimate and others not, but I can't begin to describe how painful recovery was. I was also coping with conversations that I needed to have which never became a reality, and trying to take care of a self that I didn't feel like being. Here, I thought I'd broken my ties to the notion that people would ever be there for me consistently. I wouldn't believe the next person who told me that because sometimes it is impossible for people to be there for you ... I hoped it was just bad luck that everyone left, in one way or another, the same week I needed people around me.
Things got better when I started work and school again. I pushed the negative feelings back a ways and started to doubt their significance. Rather quickly, life began to liven up again and the usual wonderful patterns joy manifested ... I was so happy and felt bad for my earlier bitterness. But I would find that my life would be put to the test again, and I'm quite certain that my original gut instincts were correct. I fell hard in so many ways.
In one of those instances, I broke down after enduring something that wasn't necessarily unbelievable -- it was just something I couldn't believe. Again, I ran to the obscurest place I could find, skipping a meeting and feeling certain that no one would discover me. Tears poured out relentlessly in streams half-shaped infinities. There was no way to stop it. Everything that I thought was real turned out to be false. Everything I wished wasn't real became true.
My department advisor happened to be in the same building I was crying in. As I was thinking to myself whether or not I should go talk to her (I'd sent her an email very broadly describing my situation a few weeks prior), the door opened and there she was. She hugged me and told me to meet her in her office. After the universe dragged me around for a few hours and tore at everything I believed in, fate stepped in and made its brilliant and confusing appearance.
Prior to all of this, I'm grateful to have had a tearful conversation over the phone with a friend who told me, point blank, "It seems like you're overwhelmed, Moira." OVERWHELMED! Yes. The good and the bad, the distance between joy and sorrow at any one given moment, all these things equate to this feeling. It's beyond me. That day was overwhelming.
At present, I'm still coping with a lot of residual sadness, on top of new sadness and on top of an overwhelming amount of good fortune. There is no such thing as a change without growing pains -- no hello is not simultaneously a goodbye, no entrance is not also an exit. Choosing silence speaks volumes. There's too many paradoxes to be discovered in a lifetime. etc. etc. I graduated college, but during finals week, I found out I'm losing my home; as time ticks on, I have yet to figure out what my future looks like (with the exception of it exhausting my finances). Parts of my identity are being challenged by a system that's notoriously destructive and it's beyond me to prove myself at this time. Theres other things. Yet, I'm "making it" as an artist, further than I'd ever imagined. Because of my circumstances, I can't enjoy it as much as I'd like, but it's one thing I know I'll never have to prove.
My first solo exhibit is coming up and I've titled it "REAL" -- if only to be able to call something by that descriptor. I want to be able to say something is real, even if it's only a title. My notions of home, of identity, friendship, family, love, pain, ability, etc. -- they've all been challenged one way or another in a very brief amount of time. And rest assured, there's parts of my story I choose to not to write about for fear of reinforcing their reality.
Getting back to SYMBOLISM of this piece -- I'm fine just addressing one concept that holds it together. A friend and I came up with the notion of there being "thread people" in our lives; it sort of relates back to the six degrees of separation idea. Basically, there are individuals we're specifically meant to meet -- divine connections -- that shape who we are just by being. Or if you're not a big fan of the term destiny, maybe we're not necessarily meant to meet them, but because we have -- there is no returning to our old selves. We can't become who we were, we can only become who we're becoming, and some people transform this process drastically.
This friend once mentioned her vision of the threads that connect these people; it had to do with the stars. We'd taken a break from our thread people bandwagon for awhile until I started this painting, and she brought it up again. Suddenly, I decided that this painting would represent that idea because there were so many thread people who influenced its creation. I painted hands sewing together the landscape, but was at a loss for what could represent the thread.
Just days prior to my upcoming exhibit, I envisioned lightning -- and how appropriate! All these things that enter our lives in moments -- and it's not just thread people, but all that I've mentioned questioning the reality of. As with lightning, we witness in awe (and sometimes fear) their sporadic manifestation; their outlines remain seconds longer, flickering behind our eyelids. It's energy. I don't know how it starts or where it goes, but it completes both transfigurations simultaneously.
I've also been dreaming about the same place every night for the past two years. I visit it every night; this is so consistent that, when I wake up, it makes my own bed feel foreign to me. I dream about places like the one in this painting, submerged in bodies of water that extend beyond imagination.
I talked about these dreams once when a couple of strangers asked me what I thought about God.