Saturday, January 9, 2016

Suffering Bodhisattva

Suffering Bodhisattva was an extremely emotional journey for me. One which is never completed, but moves along a continuum of life experiences. These experiences are a wonderfully chaotic and sometimes quite painful combination of womanhood, being chronically ill and my Buddhist inspired life philosophy. She is fully human, perfectly imperfect, quite unfinished and deeply Spiritual.

She arose out of the ashes, from a period of time that was acutely difficult for me. Probably the most difficult I have had since becoming sick and continue to work my way through today as I type this. Not the most sick I have ever been, but this particular issue has been an intense struggle for me on an emotional level. 

I've been wanting to paint something in regards to this period of my life, but honestly, I've been too sick and too overwhelmed to do so. Just mustering through life has been enough. But thanks to good doctors and a major burst of prednisone, I found myself out in the studio aching to create. I had no idea where I would go. I had no idea where I would start. Suffering Bodhisattva is where I took my rest.

A little bit about the physical side of the painting. I generally paint on a bare cotton canvas. This painting is actually on top of a photo that my husband had printed off for a showing of his own. This particular one came back from the printer a bit off in color, so a second one was made. I had originally planned on trying something creative with the photo incorporated into the painting. The process had it's own ideas, and quite soon the photo was but a memory. There is something warm and comforting to me in the knowing that my husband's work lies below this painting. On more levels than I can even write to you here. Whoever ends up with this work is really getting a pretty good two for one deal! Also, if you are wondering what the texture is, it's leftover tissue paper from this past year's Christmas presents. Quite symbolic for me as this was a particularly hard holiday due to my illness. I simply painted the canvas with an acrylic medium and stuck strips of ripped tissue paper on top, then painting over with the same medium. I moved it around with my hands with absolutely no intention, but a lot of emotion and a lot of tears. The process had begun.

I then waited for the medium to dry and painted over the top of it with only three colors - cyan blue, magenta and yellow. The tissue paper, although strengthened by the paint, was still fragile. So I gave it a heavy coat of varnish and went to bed.

The next morning when I went out into the studio I just sat and looked at what I had created. Originally it was horizontal. I turned it one way and then flipped it upside down and nothing came to me. After allowing myself to get discouraged I thought, "Hey...why do I think this needs to be horizontal?" So I flipped it vertical and there she was. I quickly got out my bottle of Payne's Gray and painted around the figure as she emerged. I simply can't tell you how exciting that was for me. With each stroke she became more clear, and from that moment on, everything just fell into place. There were no more questions. The more that emerged, the more things made sense to me.

Suffering Bodhisattva, although representational of my life and journey, is not limited to me. She is all women. And in our common suffering there is common compassion, common joy and common wisdom to be found. In that wisdom and sharing of our stories, there is strength. Let me share a few themes that became evident to me as this work came to life.

For me, the tissue represents actual tissue. It feels to me like nerve fibers. Those with Lupus and many other autoimmune diseases are plagued with nerve pain. This pain is not limited to a particular part of my body. It is very systemic. But really, all pain is systemic. We are whole bodies and we cannot separate ourselves from our foot or our toe or our head... The tissue represents the interconnectedness, both on a physical level and an emotional level.

You can see in some places it looks as though the tissue is coming out of the body. I found this very interested in two areas. The head and the abdomen. On a physical level, I suffer from headaches every day of my life. I also have some pretty complicated GI issues that have required various surgeries. On a more symbolic level, our pain is not our own. When my suffering is not mindful, it can mess with my head and I can cause some real havoc with the people I love. Especially my beloved husband. Mind games don't stay in the mind. Eventually they move out. In regards to the abdomen, this is the center of who I am. There is so much tied into this with not only my connection to my own mother (I loved how the umbilical cord just appeared), but my connection to my children, whom all too often I shield from my illness. Sometime too well and sometimes not well enough.

The tissue also represents a sort of binding. First in its limiting effects on me physically, but also feeling silenced or muted by it. Often times chronically ill people will not want to worry friends and family. Or even more so, they fear the "wearing down" of people they depend on. Suffering in silence can be emotionally difficult and isolating.

The colors go hand in hand with the tissue. Often times perfectly representing significant areas for me. In particular, this whole low point in my life is due to a severe shoulder problem in the connective tissues surrounding my shoulder.  It is causing not only an extreme amount of pain, but a significant loss of mobility for me. Disabling me even more. The same shoulder on Suffering Bodhisattva is not only tissue laden, it is red and purple, signifying pain and injury.

The texture off to the left of her side looks to me like a falling mummy. Not only a falling mummy, but one that is reaching for something that has obviously fallen first. To me, this represents those "egos" that we have to let go of. Those identities that serve us temporarily, yet we attach so strongly to them. This became ever so clear to me when I became sick. What am I, if not a certain kind of mother, the wife I used to be, a runner, a business analyst, a healthy person, an energetic wife, a productive citizen...? What am I, sitting here, sick? Unable to move. Unable to do. Unable to become. Unable to keep up. This loss of identity can be incredibly frightening. But it's not until we shed those things that bind us that we can be vulnerable. That we can be real. That we can become truly what we are meant to be - and that is the fully human, perfectly imperfect, quite unfinished and deeply Spiritual human beings that we are in this very moment. Right here, right now, as is.

That's where the form comes into play. For me, the pose embodies all that is beauty. Open, naked, arms stretched high - vulnerable. Not finished. Reaching up into something greater than herself, drawing it in. Letting go of all that engulfs her. Feeling beautiful regardless of pain, regardless of suffering. She is bald. She is not tied to earthly ideas of beauty. Like a Bodhisattva, she embraces self sacrifice not as a way of martyrdom, but in the pursuit of compassion for self and for others. In doing so, finds liberation from her own pain and suffering.

A Bodhisattva is not a Buddha. She continues on a journey that is not perfect. She is a warrior for compassion. Compassion arises out of an ability to put yourself in another's shoes. To feel what others feel. If you have ever lost someone you deeply loved, or lost your health, or a child...or felt any great suffering - you are very aware of the suffering of others.

You are Suffering Bodhisattva.

I am Suffering Bodhisattva.


Friday, April 17, 2015

African Dance

African Dance 48"x24"x1.5"
African Dance was born out of a very profound learning experience for me in regards to painting. I had been doing some research on artists and their styles when I came upon Mel McCuddin, a fantastic figurative expressionist. I think I have literally watched his video on YouTube a hundred times. In all my years painting - well over 30 - I have never found an artist so close in theory and style. When I hear him speak it's as if my own words are coming out of his mouth. So this painting was my first experience with following his process. The undercoating begins with a full range of color, splashed and blended in a very random and full of energy manner. It's truly my favorite part. The painting is then set to the side for a couple of days to just be "looked at". This was a test for me. I have a tendency to get very excited and impatient by what I see - eager to create that which is speaking to me. But this time I didn't. I actually managed to wait. Eventually I began seeing this wonderful picture of a very awkward women laying on a beach, gently reclining on some sort of chair without legs. I just could not get that picture from my mind. Every time I walked by the painting I saw her. 

This is where I blow it. 

The thing that makes Mel McCuddin such a fantastic artist is that he keeps the mystery going. He never finds the picture and then sticks to it. The picture morphs out of a continual progression, constantly changing until that moment when it is done. I, on the other hand, get very attached to my minds eye. So I took a white pastel and began to sketch what I saw. For the most part, I thought I was following his process. I was "finding the picture" in the paint. So I just kept sketching. The picture was fantastic. The drawing unusual and intriguing. But something did not feel right. Unlike my usual behavior of diving right into the paints, I waited again. It must have been a week that I sat with that chalk girl looking at me. And then it hit me. Once again I was getting bogged down in the details - tied to the picture. No more mystery! 

It was hard, but I got a damp cloth and wiped her away. I opened up what colors I thought would best go with the colors that were showing through the dark cover of the underpainting and just began to wildly splash paint on. 

I followed my heart. 

What emerged was African Dance. I knew just when to stop. It was so clear to me. More clear than any painting I have ever done. It was as if the painting itself spoke to me. Finished. 

I love this painting. There is something very feminine about it to me. Old and wise. Celebratory. I truly hope that it finds the right space.

Emerging Buddha

Emerging Buddha 12"x6"x1.5"
Emerging Buddha is exactly that. This was a tiny experiment with layering colors and textures. I really had no idea where it was going and all of a sudden a face appeared. Just with a few defining strokes, Emerging Buddha came forth out of the light. The wonderful thing about this painting is it's depth and texture. Depending on which way you turn the painting and look at it, the face changes. She was a lovely find and sits on my fireplace mantel waiting for her home. 

Boundary Waters

Boundary Waters 18"x36"x2"
Boundary waters was my first experience with major texture. This painting is extremely organic and has a multitude of dimensions not necessarily visible in these pictures. Deep and rich in color, it reminds me of the rocky shoreline in Northern Minnesota, a place near and dear to my heart. If you have ever been in the BWCA on in early fall morning, these colors will resonate with you. Misty gray rock, tannin colored waters, sun seeping through the forest... This painting brings me to that moment.


Creation 24"x48"x2"

Creation was my very first attempt at acrylic abstract painting. For the years prior to my illness, I was strictly watercolor, almost always botanical realism. My work was all about the detail. After getting sick I was unable to control my hands like I had in the past and so trying to do that kind of work was extremely frustrating. This painting is the energy in that transition. From small, soft details to large, edgy and what I describe as "out of the lines". This painting was incredibly significant in my journey with chronic illness. It was the end of a difficult grieving process and the beginning of acceptance and the expression of that acceptance. This painting is about letting go. 

Colorful Buddha

Colorful Buddha 30"x30"x1.5"

Summer's Window

Summer's Window 24"x12"x1.5"
Summer’s window and Vintage were both born out of the same experience. 

"Vintage was my first experiment with using fabric as a sort of “stamp”. I had seen another artist do a similar thing only with plaster and a doily. It worked lovely and I have since been racking my brain as to other fabric options. I named this one vintage because it gives me the feel of something old - rusty, yet dainty. I love going through old abandoned farm houses. One in particular, in northern Iowa, was just like he people walked out of their life. The house was full of little pieces of life. When we went down into the basement, which was nothing but a fine dirt floor, we came upon a very old car. How it got there I have no idea. Almost as if they had built this old farmhouse around it. This painting feels like that old house to me."