An old painting, a stretcher for new paintings
Phoning lumber yards, plywood only comes in 4' x 8' sheets, and I need 5' x 6', so... I remembered this old painting of self-portraits, and dug up the post I wrote on the story behind them at Xanga, where I was blogging at the time. Reading the post brings tears to my eyes (even if I think the painting unsuccessful). Anyway, I can tear the canvas off, and staple new pieces to the frame and thus satisfy my muse (see yesterday's post for clarification).
Sunday, 01 August 2004
This is a large painting, 4ft by 5ft, and it was many years in the making.
What I went through over it, I can barely look at it. It was my post polar bear painting. Pure soul retrieval. It consists of three actual self portraits, and one psychic self-portrait. It was about finding myself again after my marriage collapsed.
This painting had something to do with that collapse. A bit of paint on canvas, but not as innocent as it looks. After we bought our cottage, I stopped painting. The cottage was really one large room, and my children were small. After almost 7 years, I began to miss painting, which is like a need in me, and which I don't understand because nothing throws me into as much despair as painting, to paint is pure torment, it is where I throw my life on the line, risk everything, and is anything but an enjoyable activity, sort of like giving birth, it's best when it's done.
Anyway, we were having financial difficulties, but I asked my husband if I might have a large canvas for my birthday. He said no. That there was not enough money--he was still going through a case of beer a week and a bottle of wine every other night, but, for me, no.
The next year again I asked him for the same present. Can I have a big canvas for my birthday? Still the same answer. No. No money. He must have felt some remorse though, because maybe a month later he said I could go get a canvas if I wanted, but I didn't because I wanted him to give it to me as a gift, meaning for him to recognize my need to paint, and to support my talent too. He is a poet himself, having published 6 books or so, and always received emotional support from me, as well as time away from the kids to write, not to mention a typist in pre-computer days for his manuscripts.
Shortly after this we separated. It was amicable, we had a Separation Ritual, inviting the same people who had witnessed our wedding at City Hall 15 years earlier, and a party afterwards.
I told a friend at the Waldorf school that my children attended at the time about the canvas. She looked at me incredulously. I'll never forget the look in her eyes, ever. And said, "But why didn't you buy the canvas yourself?"
So I did. I was working, editing, and did have money. It cost around $100. My ex picked it up for me from the discount art store where I ordered it and brought it home on the roof rack. That was supportive, no? Or perhaps it was because I had broken the code of silence between us and told someone else and he was a little embarrassed.
It could have been the relationship, the long hard years of being secondary to my husband, of having my writing, painting, degrees considered not just unimportant but a waste of time, of my ideas, perceptions, learning existing only to catapult him to poetic stardom, and so on. But by the time 1997 rolled around I realized I had developed major creative blocks.
With much will power, I began the painting. It was like learning to walk all over again. Slow, hesitant, painful. The first image in the middle is from a photograph taken when I was 32, in the a few months after my father died. His death signified the loss of many things in my life, and my probable career in academia. She's standing in a yellow rain slicker in the mountains, mountains which I painted in and then painted out. When my father died, something died in me also, and so I painted my younger self as a way to go back and retrieve her drive and enthusiasm for learning, for life, for reaching out. Above her is another me, with antlers growing out of her head, a little older, from a photo taken at the cottage. The angel is from a photo at my daughter's second birthday party. The old woman on the right is an image after one in "Soul Cards," by Deborah Koff-Chapin (Center for Touch Drawing, 1995), and was a card I pulled almost weekly at the small yoga class I taught.
The painting’s a triptych. It's the old Christian tri-level world, hell, earth, heaven, only in New Age spirituality, it's grounding yourself in the earth for renewal, through your Winter, ordinary life in a yellow rain slicker, looking upwards, moments of revelation, nature, with echoes of shamanic spirituality, and the angel is one's higher self, a more wise version of oneself who can guide one through.
All in all, I worked on it from 1997-2002. It's called, "Self Portraits." After I finished it, I realized that I never wanted to paint at an easel with a brush again and began throwing my canvas’ on the floor and finger painting right out of the tube; whenever, that is, that I can work through the creative blocks that I am still struggling with.
That’s the story of the painting that I posted today.