So I haven’t been going about this whole painting thing very long. When I would draw, it consisted mostly of shapes filled in with words, usually poetry and song lyrics that weren’t mine. I started painting when an ex-partner challenged me to just put a pencil to paper and draw without thinking about it. I used leftover fingerpaints and construction paper from a party in the beginning. The first thing I painted was a giant floating tree limb or something.
It’s taken me a while to get comfortable but I’ve reached a comfort level that allows me some experimentation, and I’m having a blast with it. I’ve been playing with color and texture a lot recently, and I figured out that my favorite things to create involve a variety of material all jammed into one, and this has informed my style.
Anyway, whatever. A couple of months ago I started a small mixed media painting where i stuck a cross with a broken chain over a piece of cardboard that i practiced dripping paint on. The plan is to finish it with (hopefully real) white roses and a picture of a saint. I’m Jewish, but my partner’s mom is Catholic. For some reason, I thought of her while I was affixing the cross to the cardboard. This isn’t a satirical piece, either, and she’s lovely.
I picked up a canvas in an alley two blocks from my old apartment in Wrigleyville back in 2011 that was an incomplete portrait of a woman. It had been sketched and outlined in oil pastel but had been discarded. The eyes are beautiful. The hair is black and green. The outline and body of the person is detailed. I thought it was lovely on sight. I kept it. Lately I’ve been getting the itch to do something with it, collaborate with a stranger who won’t ever get to see it, maybe, so tonight I’m filling in the background and deciding what to do with her–do i leave her pasteled outline as-is and paint around her, or do I practice my shading with her, as people aren’t my forté and i should learn this?
What’s influencing my decision is a self-portrait a very old best friend of mine made for herself in college, wearing a large fur hat (she was in Minnesota), her glasses and her trademark smart-face look. I keep seeing her in this, looking like that.
The point is, I’ve started seeing people when I paint. I see them in my work. I didn’t imagine that was actually possible. I frankly always thought that “seeing a person in one’s work” would be more… literal? all the time? And not just in symbols and symbolism.
This is bananas that it’s only just something I feel like I’m discovering for me, because i write. I read. I know what symbolism is, what its function is. I don’t think I’ve ever been good with symbolism. It comes from trying too hard to make something mean something. That’s a challenge when making things, creating things. In the way of not forcing things, art isn’t supposed to make statements. It just makes them.
It’s fascinating to see something you picture as one thing turn into something else entirely. I’d never experienced that and encountered a human recognition at the same time.
I suppose I won’t be giving the finished cross piece to my partner’s mother, mostly because giving art to someone is always an awkward gift, you never know if they’re pretending to like it or not, and also because I don’t know how actually religious she is, and she might be confused as to why her son’s Jewish girlfriend is painting pictures and sticking crosses on them. I will be putting it up somewhere when we move in together in a month, though. She’s a loyal, supportive and beyond loving woman and mother and she has always treated me like I was one of her own children. I love that I’ll have something in the house that’ll bring us a reminder of her, in a different way.