30"x48" water-soluble oils on canvas.
I don't believe in disclaimers.
But I would maintain that this isn't one of my more "uplifting" pieces of writing. As per usual, the main themes are outlined in bold (for my DA readers) so that it's easier to skim. If I write just about the person in the painting, in the moment, this was all that came to mind. It won't always be, but it was in this moment!
For easier reading, with formatting, follow this link: http://fav.me/dapdd40
This piece began as a tantrum.
A lot of my friends remember that description. "This will be my tantrum piece," I'd promised. It began in anger, exhaustion and haste. Every peaceful mantra I’d invoked when life felt the most real suddenly lost meaning. Notions of faith and hope, of any sort of truth to be found in these things, were eliminated in their entirety. "Nothing feels real," I remember saying. Life gives only what it can take back.
I thought I'd gotten through the most conflicting time and it only got messier.
The worst part was thinking that I'd ever been a part of making others believe in things like hope or "genuine" joy. I was angry that I'd promised others the existence of something that I myself couldn't keep. I've dedicated the past few years to writing about all the hope that I've discovered in dark times, guaranteeing its possibility to others. Everything that gave me hope and certainty was, in some way, deceiving -- maybe not false, but not real or true either. I just feel as though I've played a part in deceiving others because I believed so strongly, and have yet to figure out how or why ....
The original title was going to be "The Option". That's a pretty grimy word to associate with your own image, yeah?
Given that I've felt disrespected by multiple individuals as well as groups, I can speak on a collective betrayal that took place and call it by the name of "this past year", or lump it under the category of a disheartening "pattern" of experiences, avoiding having to call anyone/anything out. I've been angry because I can't point fingers at any one person for the hurt I've felt. I've just been left with my self, a person powerless in assigning judgment.
With that realization, the only ounce of curiosity I had left manifested in the thought that I might reveal something more than "me" if I painted my own portrait. I knew it would take some time and maybe, in the process, my feelings would water down. I could maybe become more satisfied with who I am, complete with all the intensive patterns of ecstasy and remorse. I could displace my vulnerability and my heart for a bit into an image instead of constantly having it on my sleeve (where it inevitably gets scuffed).
I'd always wanted to paint myself in the style of Adele Bloch-Bauer in Gustav Klimt's image of her. Since I had nowhere to start except for that vision, I pulled up an old photo I'd taken specifically for use as a reference a few months prior .... and I went to work. I've seen my own face enough times (years of wearing makeup) to have it mostly memorized, so this process was fairly simple. Every pattern and detail was painted on the spot, without reference.
As always, it's life itself that constitutes my process:
I got my heart broke once or twice or a thousand times, I don't really know when this process stopped or started, or even if it's still happening. People who were there for me often had their own motives ... if not in the beginning, towards the end (or vice versa). I surrounded myself with people constantly, despite these patterns. I relived my joys and my sorrows and the space between on microcosmic levels and felt sick most of the time.
Strangers & Scripts:
If I speak on the impact of strangers -- I think of the psychological toll cat callers have, especially on women who have no means of transportation other than the public route (which was me quite recently). Every day. Without cease. On day 53 of living in my new city, I wrote a poem and posted it with the following description after a man asked for change, harassed me, then proceeded to throw the money at the pavement as I carried on down the street:
53 days living in this city, and I've experienced harassment in the streets at least once every single day. 50+ different men. Doesn't matter if it's a 2 minute walk or a 2 hour walk. Doesn't matter if skin's exposed or bundled in baggy clothes and a hoodie... If I wear makeup or go bare-faced, brush my hair, change my posture, walk slow or fast, talk to myself, avoid eye contact, make eye contact, speak or remain silent. The men are all different ages, ethnicities, abilities .... I don't get how this is such a scripted behavior. Whether it's obscene gestures or remarks on my appearance, whistling, or changing their route to follow or approach me. It's extreme cases and minor cases.
Nothing exaggerated. I just can't tell if it's society or my city I'm having issues with.
Why does it matter? Some women HAVE no choice but to walk places. The psychological nagging that they put up with on a regular basis is extraordinary.
I was angry at biology and at society... that our biology defines who we are in society, just as society defines biology ... whatever is going on (I swear, I'm too academic). But how did I end up in the position of putting up with all of those strangers?
I lost my home and (maybe?) a part of my identity.
Every time I go to write about it, I realize it's something I have yet to process. It will take more than a self portrait to navigate the confusion of growing up on a reservation, only to be kicked off for not being "enough". And, though I've written extensively, I'm still too afraid to write what I think on this matter -- I'm still too scared to open old and unsettled wounds. I'm angry because I'm still docile, I bite my tongue...., I'm afraid of my own words and the impact they might have, if they have impact at all, etc. I'm afraid to say anything about this summer.
However, if I were to summarize, offering as little detail as possible, this summer went like this:
I lost my home. I stayed somewhere temporarily. I found glimpses of peace. I stayed confused.
As you can imagine, each of those points is a story to tell.
There was sleep paralysis and "ghosts" and my usual bodily pains... I was careless to the extent that I know how to be, but so much as I couldn't believe in hope, I also couldn't believe in its alternative.
But then society got angry recently ... and I found my misplaced peace.
That's not to say I won't get angry again. But when so many others became angry, my anger became less. Obviously, if I still don't feel like I can speak as openly as I used to, I'm not entirely at peace....
I really only realized that my anger, in a collective, chaotic context, only fueled a fire that was out of control the minute it was lit. I don't know where I'm at, I just know that things are finally feeling more "real" and livable, and for once it has little to do with others.
Sooooo I guess this was still a tantrum.
But not a huge one. I know there's not many people who understand me to be an "angry" person, per se; as a symptom of grief, however, anger is a stage that I know well. It's this feeling of not being able to change what's happened to you -- it's an awareness of the world continuing without ever catering to your circumstances. It's achieving maximum productivity in isolation ... surpassing yourself in a manner devoid of seeming effort. It's all of your heroes disappointing you. Whatever all that, or anything, means.
I've found other places to be without anger, though.... It's not like those places don't exist. I love dancing and I love reading. I love that I have the opportunity to be a teacher at my job and hang out with kids who get as grumpy as me sometimes ... kids who know about as much about their own issues as anyone in this day and age. Although I don't bother keeping a list anymore, there's still individuals I maintain genuine respect for and who are my heroes, in one form or another. I'm grateful for the 50+ individuals who were there (or tried to be) at one point or another during this summer's moving crisis. Throughout most of the process of painting this piece, I actually got to share studio space with one of my favorite living surrealists (woohoo!), which is sort of funny given that this was supposed to I imagined would be completed in isolation/on my own. I'm grateful to artists for helping reinforce the only certain aspect of my identity -- the part that makes me an artist! Even when my personal work output is minute, I'm grateful to be understood as something without needing to articulate it. (also, shout-out to the painter Karen Savage-Blue for recommending these paints!)
Most of you might imagine traffic lights.
I imagine the unexplainable.
In the valley of one of my lowest days, I remember waking up to darkness after 40 hours without sleep; the phantom auras of red lights spilled over into my vision. They were remnants of sight from a dream. They remained for a split second and were gone, and, as I stirred, I got the sense that I hadn't even come close to reaching my lowest point.
Of course, that's about the time things really began to shift.
My dreams played a larger role in my overall disposition after that (although they've always been a source of reference for me). Just as I began to adopt lightning as a key feature/theme in my artwork, we started to have the most electric and wonderful lightning storms. I'd never seen weather that compared. Everything in my last painting (which was inspired in part by the places I visit when I sleep) manifested, one way or another. Recently, I dreamt of completing to paintings of dancers, and my father (the very next day) requested I paint the image I saw in my dreams.
After a long period of not working on this portrait, I realized where I could incorporate this concept of Red Lights, although I guess it's not really a concept I've explained too clearly. REDLIGHTS are the spots in our vision ... they're blinding in some areas. They're obnoxious and intense but also, to some degree, hopeful, because we can't know what we don't perceive. Sometimes they're artificial ... manmade, airplanes mimicking the stars...sometimes they're spiritual, flashing beneath the shores of our eyelids or as a veil for our anger or fatigue, they're the glow in our tears, a candle behind our fingers. I picture the red lights flashing to the music of my one and only major occipital seizure half a decade ago. REDLIGHTS. I know what happens next.
Check out some of my poetry, you'll note that REDLIGHTS is a reference I make often (IG is the place to be if you want to follow my art in real time): www.instagram.com/moiralikethe…
And here's a poem film featuring my voice, words and illustrations with the help and compilation by the artist who opened his studio to me this summer: www.facebook.com/moirart/video…
other themes I'll save for later:
social constructionism and forgiveness
I accidentally put a hole in this piece ... I was little bummed it didn't land where my surgery scar is on my arm! It got patched though.
My hair grew quite a bit over the course of painting this, and my hairstyle changed slightly. I kept adding more hair as I worked as a result, ha!
Here's a glimpse at the process, which took place mainly this summer: http://sta.sh/016pxknpic3z