15 May

You know how an unexpected event in your normal, productive life can simply cut you off at the knees? And the months that follow that event are no longer normal or productive? And you slip from being even-tempered, easy-going, and smooth-sailing into a depressed, weepy blob of an anxious mess?

Maybe that’s never happened to you, but it’s exactly what happened to me early this year. Someone dear to me said and did hurtful things that cut deep. And as a result I didn’t paint for two straight months. The only thing I could do in my studio was sit and cry. And, of course, the isolation forced on us all by the pandemic exacerbated my dreadful situation. I was sad, lonely, hurt. 

In the third month of my traumatized life, I made myself go to the studio with my weak spirit. I lay paint on my pallet and downheartedly applied it to the 36x42 cradle board on which I had already started a design. Little inspiration resulted from that effort. There was a small section of the painting I tried to like. Honestly, though, there was nothing worth savaging. Accepting that truth made me even sadder. 

Frustrated and feeling completely blocked, I left the unfinished board alone for weeks. But something kept calling me back to the studio. So I returned six more times, going through the same process – putting paint on the pallet – smearing paint on the panel. Time after time the same board. Same blah results. At the end of each effort, I looked at what had happened and I wanted to like it. I really did! But couldn’t. Seven paintings! Each iteration – nothing to keep! 

Then . . . studying my latest attempt, I sort of lost all reasoning ability and began opening a bunch of small containers of paint I had collected from a previous period when I was productive and loved my work. There was a little bit of green, some yellow, a considerable amount of black, some white, and a scoop of red that had been contained in small to medium size jars . . . just waiting. Without regard, I extracted the paint from one container after another and smeared it all on the board with my hands. I couldn’t use a pallet knife – my favorite painting tool – because there was so much dried paint underneath that the surface was pocked, rippled, and scared. I smeared the paint from top to bottom and around the sides. 

When all the containers were empty and the panel was covered in very dark paint, I asked the painting – I actually said this out loud, “What do you want to be?” 

I don’t know why, but after asking that question, I rotated the panel from horizontal to vertical, balancing it on the aisle. 

Then I saw it – a face peering out from the darkness. 

I don’t know how it happened. Painting the face was not my intention. So whoever it is and however it came to be on my substrate, I’m grateful. It revealed itself at the perfect time. 

It seemed to say that I’m not alone in my artistic quest – that there is another side that may be obscured from view but has life that is sustaining and full of surprise.

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