9 paintings, various sizes, oil on birch, 2011

Ambiguities and Alternatives (9 works)

This series was painted June - July. After completing the My Blue World series (immediately prior) I’d hoped to move on from process oriented pieces. However, following a critique in which a “reviewer” said that I don’t challenge myself enough (April), my creative spirit was jolted. Even though others reeled about their reviews too, this nudge, at an already vulnerable time,  made it hard for me to switch gears and think of anything else... It’s not so much what was said, but how—the prompt to develop imagery more akin to art therapy than fine art. Given that I have come to recognize art therapy as a métier and fine art as a vocation, I am especially sensitive lest the former eclipse the latter. That said, if this series can help others know that they are not alone in in coming to terms with the vicissitudes of the human condition, the pain manifested here (through process and product) will have been worth it.

1. Scary and Scared (18 x 24 in)

I started this piece after seeing a face in the grain of the wood. Initially I began by painting what I thought was my brother, a follow-on from the last work completed in the My Blue World series. As the painting got further along, I suddenly saw my father in it too. The brush strokes became softer and more sympathetic. Pity appeared as well as angst. My brother’s conduct has been scary to me. My father has made me scared through his aging and illnesses.

Viewers of this piece in my studio say they “get it.” It speaks to them in powerful ways. Everyone has someone in their life who causes them SCARE, family member or not. Should we feel sorry for the scary one, or should we feel sorry for ourselves? What does feeling scared do to you, and what does it do to others? What happens when fear and feared come face to face?

This was a one session piece (unusual for me), painted on a very long Saturday morning. I felt horrible when I started painting, but much better once finished.

2. Seeing Red (11 x 14 in)

Even though the first piece in this series left me in better mood, the second gave a jolt. I cannot get over things overheard, uttered by those important in my life. Details included here may be familiar to artists and athletes of all types. They may have been told the same directly:
your heART (the only thing you are good at) is a NONSENSE! If we don’t believe in you, how can anyone else?  Get a 9 - 5 job.

3. Leap of Faith (16 x 20 in)

This is one of those pieces that I might never have painted had the image not emerged from the grain in the wood. Truly representative of where I was at at the time—hoping for a big leap of faith—I meditated on this while painting. Later, when photographing the body of work to which this piece belongs I forgot to include this one. I believe there are no accidents, in art or life. A higher power drives circumstances and the best laid plans might not happen. I rediscovered this missing piece months later, at a time when faith was challenged once again. The stretch was huge, and making it to the other side of the pond (literally and metaphorically) would make all the difference.

4. How High Can You Climb, How Low Can you Fall? (18 x 24 in)

This piece was guided by the grain in the wood and was possibly a reaction to a piece created a little before, Seeing Red.  “How high can you climb, how low can you fall?” That’s what seems to have wanted to come out here. It was early on a Friday evening when I started painting and the sun shone into my studio. I kept thinking it's Friday night (the Sabbath), I shouldn’t be painting. I shouldn’t be doing a lot of things, but...

Keeping the rules hasn’t worked, so if I now paint on the Sabbath is that really a sin, or is it telling me something more—how the faith has made less sense to me over the years? Judaism, as I have discovered, as a single, is a family religion and if you haven’t made a match and been fruitful and multiplied, there is little to make you feel welcome—at least in community settings. Others may believe differently—I can only speak from personal experience... Friday nights can be painful when alone and Shabbat Shalom (Peaceful Sabbath), the common Hebrew greeting is not being mocked. I am just choosing to share that my Sabbaths don’t really feel peaceful, no matter how hard I have attempted to have this as goal over the years.

Climbing Kilimanjaro, I made it to the top. I was alone in my perseverance, but not on the journey. With sherpas and co-climbers, there was a sense of belonging, one that felt nurturing, if only then. When we climb high, or fall low, we reach out or have others reach in to us. The little brown character off to the side, whose appearance was also provoked by the wood grain, has outstretched arm. His/her/its pit in the stomach as well as heart in eye are significant too.

Even when the look of paintings changes, my recurring symbols may not. I started to paint the next piece before finishing this one. It was just too difficult to do it all in one session. Pausing and stepping back matters more to me than racing through.

5. Dog is God. Poodles are Heavenly (48 x 36 in)

Without my Poodles, I don’t think I would have got through most of the challenges of the last 14 years (Lev is 15 Feb 2012). When there is no constant (human) other in your life, Poodle pals, at least for me, provide the love, care, and wisdom necessary to survive. They are the burst of light and hope that guarantee safe passage to the next day. They lick tears from face and coax to walk. They keep secrets and show responsibility and purpose when there seems no point. I painted this piece with some delicacy. This time, I wasn’t following the grains of the wood, but my own brush strokes. I needed the soothing to begin—magic to happen. It came on gently and softly, at first without plan, then the Poodle face appeared. I went with her, her curls and noble nose. I didn’t want to push her too far, or make her too obvious. Likely, I didn’t... Those visiting my studio have seen other images in this piece. One neighbor noticed the torso of a woman with substantial chest (not me!), head held up and back, mouth wide open as if about to scream. Projection can be interesting...

6. wHOLE in the heART (30 x 30 in)

Those who have have been lucky enough to bear a child may not be able to relate. Those who have longed for one, but never had the opportunity, live with a void. a void that cannot be filled. As I was completing this piece, the Today Show was playing in the background and gave the statistic that one in five American women, today, don’t bear children. It also said that for some this has been a choice. I find this hard to fathom. For me, there are no substitutes for the gift of real life motherhood. Not even the two best dogs in the world...

This piece emerged spontaneously. The first thing I saw in the wood was the eye. Before I detailed its form, I built around it and coaxed a heart form to emerge. Hearts are my thing!  As I started to fill the heart, an area off center remained blank. At first I thought it was starting to look like a heart within a heart. Later, I realized that it was, probably, something more. This form has appeared in earlier pieces. I didn’t want to acknowledge it, but had to.

With everyone else’s problems being more important than my own, there has been little air time for my mid-life crisis and the pain it gives, not momentarily, but constantly. This piece, I realize, is painted in tribute to the wonderful single women friends n my life who are in similar positions. Our lament is huge, talent enormous, and recognition lacking. We would have made finer mothers than the many out there who make a mockery of that role with offspring as accessory, inconvenience, or object of abuse...

There is a comfort in knowing that you are not alone in a circumstance with which “outsiders” cannot identify, but this doesn’t help make it any easier.

Other works that have emerged earlier on a similar subject include:

Mother and Child: Dream or Reality (2005)
Mother/Child Unraveled (2006)

7. Long Face and Big Back-Side of Burden (16 x 12 in)

When things aren’t going well, we show it, whether through the face we wear or the weight we add. Internal stress has external signs. And you can’t turn your back to it. This creature is picking head up and contorting body, ready to make a move—get back on track. That’s all we can wish for her. But, she cannot do it alone! Some may say that this creature isn’t scary or ugly. She doesn’t have to be! I have a tendency to paint pretty pictures even when life isn’t. An innately positive person wants to shine through.
Visitors to my studio have remarked that some of my work has a bit of Chagall in it. He is one of my favorites, and this is flattering feedback—especially when painting more difficult themes.

8. On the Edge (24 x 18 in)

Just before New Year’s 2011/12, as I was filing Jpeg images on my computer, I noticed that I failed to post this important work from the Ambiguities and Alternatives series. This work  had taken me longer to create than all the others and was extremely painful to complete. Remarkable to think that what I painted was triggered by the grain of the wood. Almost as with a painting by numbers an image emerged from what was already there...

Perhaps I’d wanted to forget it later. Perhaps, I needed time to digest what was in it. Whatever the case, there are, generally, no accidents with the choices we make. Even if they don’t always feel right, it’s good to consider the extra attention they get, as well as possible reasons for it. Timing can be interesting, as can conclusions. So, what is the message here as I see it months after painting?

You (little bunny) are on the edge. Who is there with you?  What does your “family portrait’ or “circle of friends/supports” look like? There’s a divide to jump (or not), rushing waterfall below and between. Are others interested or concerned? One closes her eyes. Another looks to the side, protected by a wooden shield. Trunk from an aging tree reveals years of growth, possible roots of concerns—patterns of responses.  A little bunny, though on a ledge, has lush grass to rest on and an unknown towering over her, eyes open—perhaps to protect or help, perhaps to monitor what ‘s happening. Bunny looks healthy and composed despite everything. A rushing waterfall may present a way out or obstacle. Does she find ways around it? Could others in the picture do anything (change their stance). or is it all up to her?

Painting of this work directly preceded The Rain and the Pain.

9. The Rain and the Pain (16 x 20 in)

Rain has different significance for different people. It can bring mood down or lift it up. When painting this piece, my mood was low. I was throwing paint at the wood and watching it trickle down—relieving and releasing pain. The magic of the process—drips made and how they ran thickly or thinly had me waiting and watching. When all was dry a few weeks later and I added a layer of varnish the clumped masses shone.