Same Story, Different Response
It happens time and again. I begin a painting with one thing in mind, and before I know it, it decides something else. At least I’ve grown wise enough by now to let it have its way.
This painting is a perfect case in point.
I put a lovely vase of tulips on my dining table because, frankly, I’m tired of winter, and I needed a splash of color to brighten the backdrop of gray sky. I’m sure many of you can relate.
The tulips were rather demure at first. They stood, straight and neat. They behaved, perfectly polite. They broke no rules.
But honestly, they were a little boring. Kind of like art when it’s reined in too much.
The Tulips Are Too Excitable
Oh, but then, two days later, they bent this way and that in a chaotic dance of glory. Some blooms opened wide; others refused to cooperate. Their leaves twisted and turned and stretched and curled and drooped in a most lovely, messy fashion. They mesmerized me.
“This must be an abstract still life!” I exclaimed. Normally, I don’t paint at home–I go to my studio–but this couldn’t wait, because some of the blooms were starting to drop, and I knew time was of the essence. I happily set the flowers on a painting cloth to protect the table, and I turned on a full-spectrum daylight lamp to make best use of light and shadow and color.
I put out paints and brushes and water and linen panel and sketched the tulip shapes happily with vine charcoal, just as a way to get to know them, and wrote on the canvas the way I usually do to set the mood and tone for myself (there are hidden messages in most of my paintings). I knew I’d then obliterate the sketch with paint and take the flowers somewhere new. Why, they may not even look like flowers. Perhaps I could say it all with color! I got so pleased with myself.
It Is Winter Here
And then … it happened. I looked down. I saw a calm, muted painting. Lots of gray in the background. This was me, trying to control things. This was gray, trying to take over. It was a perfectly nice start to a nice painting. But for me, it was boring, because something else was going on inside that needed a voice.
“No!” I exclaimed. “This will not do!” (Good thing no one was around to hear.)
In the Pink
So, out came the bright magenta, and I mixed a cool but strong teal as well as some salmon, oh, and some black because I craved outlines for some reason, and then things got moving. Which is how I knew the painting was finally speaking in the voice it needed to.
Making art is always a process of adding, eliminating, covering, exposing, nudging, until the artist finds and feels a balance, a satisfaction or pleased astonishment.
Was it what I initially intended? Nope. Not by a long shot. It sticks out like the proverbial sore thumb in the context of my other work. (You see, galleries want a cohesive body of work, which means some kind of visual thread, aka style, should weave through various pieces, whether through subject matter, expression, use of color and value, mark making, you name it.)
But I’ve been doing this long enough to know it’s a step toward something. I’m pushing and prodding and learning and growing and making my way, and that in itself is a big deal, as uncomfortable as it can feel while it’s happening.
This Painting Had a Mind of Its Own
I’m delighted with this painting and the way it had a mind of its own. All that hot, in-your-face pink–I’m craving pink more and more these days–makes me very happy and reflects exactly how I felt about the tulips in my life at that point. And the cool, dark and medium values of the teal are the perfect offset. A friend said it has touches of Matisse. I love Matisse. I’ll take it as a compliment. But it’s a Boyer, not a Matisse, and that’s at the heart of this story, the entire point of the experience.
Were those colors there in real life? No. Does that matter? Oh, hell, no. All that matters is the story this painting tells to the viewer. In its own voice. In its own way.
In my own voice. In my own way.
I decided to name it after Sylvia Plath’s poem, “Tulips.” The poem is poignant and has darkness, which is important to any narrative. That tension, that push and pull–between light and dark, life and death, sorrow and joy–is integral. I painted those tulips because they had started to die, and I wasn’t ready to let them go (I’m just now realizing this). I made them immortal, in a most glorious way. What a profound and wonderful power that is.
Here’s to art and the way it not only creates everlasting stories for us to lean on, but helps us uncover who we are, in all our glory.