Safe Space Painting Project

I wanted to make a series of abstract paintings for an exhibition this fall, but the figure kept coming into the composition. You may not be able to really see the figure yet, it's partially cropped out, and not clearly articulated.   This image began to emerge after hours of painting and wiping everything away, and starting over.  Again and again.

After I got past my own trying, this movement came, and I knew it was the beginning--it just felt right.  It's incomplete now, in the raw, unfinished.  But it's real.  I plan on keeping things unrefined for now, but we'll see where the process goes.

Here is a start of a series inspired by my daughter.  Who says that the only place she feels safe is at home with mom.  I've wanted to create a space for a seven year old who is smart and sensitive, who somehow has figured out why she and her classmates have lock down drills at school, and understands things I wish she didn't have too.

I don't have answers for all of her questions.  Just an endless amount of love, and encouragement to persist with a messy grittiness.  I tell her over and over that she is innately good, and loved just the way she is.  That the whole damn thing is one bittersweet gift.  Except I don't say damn, she's only seven, after all.

Now that I've stated working on this series, I realized that there is an ache in all of us for this.  Hemingway wrote about it in "A Clean Well Lighted Place."  Dillon sings about "Shelter from the Storm."  Many artists have tried to articulate what shelter looks like.  Or what the absence, or lack of shelter feels like.

So here is the beginning of the Safe Space Painting Project.

Being Rich, Dark, Ink is Not a Mistake

 

Today I painted the canvases thick.  Red, Yellow, Blue. Zinc White. Galkyd Gel. Mix. Repeat.  Gradually.  Slowly.  Until the deep rich darkness of the three primaries coupled with white blended down together and began to take on the appearance of think black ink.  Not too purple, not too brown.  Dark and heavy and viscus.  It’s the color of black tar, of murk, of lurching echoes underneath the Milky Way night sky.  

It longs to become clear fresh, crystal clean water, but for now ink it remains. 

I have come to believe that it is not a mistake to sit in the dark ink places.  Maybe, as Sister Glennon says, it's a response to being a sensitive soul in a messed up world.  The veil of time that keeps us suspended in the ink needs to find expression.  And that's okay.  In fact it's a healthy and wholesome act.  A vehicle to truth telling in a world largely more comfortable with glossy and perfect and presentable. Especially from a girl.

Because that girl has been called beauty.   Skinny jean and hip enough to play a part with the arty girls, wearing oversized eyeglasses and dyed hair.   Or she's felt that she needs to be jock enough in a man’s art world, speaking all moxie and bravado to be heard.  And/or smart enough for the Deconstructionists, the philosophers, the smart people in the know.   Or how about just sexy enough for plain good old fashioned advertising, let's just start there.  Edited enough on Photoshop.  A body with all the right proportions, a vehicle to sell.  I would be remiss if I did not add a curated Facebook feed, complete with memes and updates at just the right times with just the right about of content. And on. And on. And on.

I’ve wanted to be something other.  But what I’m finding is to be the dark ink.  I want to look like the water.  But that would be dishonest.  Pretending.  Because it’s not a mistake to be the ink.  In the light, water may get the attention.  It may speak to perfection.  But in the ink is where the Know is.  It's good soil for creativity if you let it be.  And there is power in that. 

Because I’m tired of putting on roles that don't fit, and never did.

Today, in the studio, a small dismantling of those roles took place, leaving me to speak from my voice.   In writing these words, too.  I need both paint and words just as much as the ink to make them.  

If this is you, if you have been feeling like ink when all you want is to be the water, then let’s find places to dismantle together, you and me. 

Because that is where the life is.

 

For further resources and reading, and to connect with others who are finding their voices through dismantling, I recommend:  

Love Warrior by Glennon Doyle Melton, Finding God in the Waves by Mike McHargue, The Artist's Way by Julie Cameron, The Poems of Mary Oliver, especially The Journey.  Shauna Niequist quotes this poem in her new book Present Over Perfect, which is wonderful as well.  Anything written by Brene Brown, especially Daring Greatly.  These authors have taught me so much about being brave.  It's possible to be in this world and do the work that brings you to life.   In fact, I believe we are wired and created for it.

 

On Creativity: Confessions of a College Art Educator

I remember the first time I stepped into an art classroom.  Way before Seth Godin introduced us to the idea of finding a tribe, or before social media became the platform for connection it is today, I remember entering into this space of creativity and of making things and feeling like I had found my home.  The second feeling I had, almost immediately after that,  was that I was an impostor.   I was nowhere near as cool, or smart, or as talented as all the other 'real' art students in that classroom.  I became afraid.

That was a long time ago.  Now I am the art teacher in the classroom.   If I am honest, I still feel the fear of not being enough:  smart enough, cool enough, talented enough.  Not much has changed, except that I have learned that what I do is not grounded in "enough," but in something deeper than anyone's opinion of it, including my own.  

What I know for sure is that creativity is for everyone.  It is something we are all born with.  There is no such thing as creative people and non-creative people.  The only way I know to feel like I am not just skimming through the top layer of my life is to be creative.  I define creativity in the words of Sir Ken Robinson, as using your mind to make something that is original and has value.  It takes on many forms, but it always elevates us into our truest, most whole selves.  

I am still learning, failing, and getting back up and trying again.  It is worth it, though.  There is nothing more powerful than speaking from an undiluted and authentic voice.  I would love to know, how do you dig deep into creativity?  What helps you to connect with your truest voice, and what is its worth to you?