Now that I am writing about my art, I find that I am thinking about the process of creating art . Not only current artwork, but projects from the past. I’m starting to see trends and themes that I never really saw before. When you have a body of work to pull from, you will invariably have threads of your creative process that show up in more than one place. Thus the title of this post: Swirls.
I had just finished an incredibly realistic painting of a wolf howling, so detailed, you could see his breath and practically every hair. It’s nice, but I think I painted it to prove to myself I could be “tight”… it was an exercise in skill. How good was I? Well,after it was done, I thought, pretty good! Here it is, judge for yourself:
It was a painstaking process and after I was done, I felt the need to loosen up. To stretch a little, as it were. I built a large canvas out of unbleached duck (a grade of canvas) and set it up on my easel. Hmmm, now what? For some reason, I didn’t prime the canvas. I don’t remember what possessed me not to apply gesso… maybe I was out. It was a long time ago and we were barely scraping by, living in a run-down (read death trap) trailer and sleeping on a mattress on the floor.
I stood in front of the raw canvas and closed my eyes for a minute. Took a deep breath and hoping something would come to me, did a mini meditation. Nothing. Another deep breath and this time I said, “Ok… Whatever is in me or around me that paints through me, now’s your chance. You can do whatever you like… I’m tapped out of ideas right now, you give it a go.” Or words to that effect, it was (literally) decades ago.
I put some paint on my palette, picked up a fan brush (which I never use, so that was new right there) and began painting these swirls. I scrubbed paint into the dry and porous surface, rubbing in every bit, letting the canvas soak up the pigments and oil. I hardly used any turpentine, just some linseed to help the paint flow in places. I scrubbed and scrubbed and wore the brush down to a nub. By the time I was through, this had emerged:
It was pretty cool and very different from anything else I’d done before. I liked it! But life got in the way after that. I set aside my paints as we moved, got new jobs, had a baby. I poured my creativity into other outlets. I gardened, sewed baby clothes, drew small illustrations, took up basketry and jewelry making. One day I realized it had been almost 10 years since I had painted… how on earth had that happened?! Well, enough time had gone by, so I built an easel, set it up in my laundry room and got back at it. I painted a couple of horses and some small landscapes. And you know what? Those swirls began to pop up where I least expected.
The above painting used to be twice as wide and featured my horse running in the desert. But it wasn’t very good… and to top it off, I had some issues with that particular horse. One day, in a quasi exorcism from him, I cut up the painting and cut him out of my life. The best part of this painting had never been him anyway. It was this half with all the swirls and flow.
We moved again and now I had my studio set up in the one car garage. I worked small but I kept swirling about. An avid backpacker, I began to paint where I’d been.
I even hid things in the swirls. See if you can find the three sisters… they’re not hidden very well.
It looks like I went through a landscape phase here. The swirls began to get more prominent.
I even explored some illustrative themes. I rarely paint people. The 3 Sisters were a place, but also something spiritual. With that in mind, I painted this next piece. But it’s somehow too personal… the figure looks sadly troubled. I probably should stay away from people… they never are quite what I expect them to be. This one seems to be ignoring the spiritual wisdom that is being doled out to the fish in the stream. Yes, yes, lots of symbolism here.
Throughout all this, the bristles on my brushes got smaller and smaller. But I kept working on prepared canvases, ones where the surface is primed. I decided to see if I could recreate the original flavor of that first swirly painting. So I stretched out a couple of huge canvases and decided to return to the original raw/scrubbed in format. By the time I got to this point, my husband and I built my studio. Right on top of the garden. I was actually kicking tomatoes out of the way as we measured off the space. Gardening took a back seat and rightly so.
I was feeling pretty good about these, though they are somewhat overpowering when hung in a small room. Especially the rainbow one. So I toned it down with some smaller paintings.
I did a few more small ones, where I explored purple and green, they weren’t very exciting, so no pictures. Believe me, you aren’t missing much. I think I was running out of steam for pure swirls. I returned to painting horses. The Red Flame horse is a prime example of swirls in my work (you can find it in the horse art gallery). They continue to slip into my paintings, so I know my muse is still with me in spirit. She does not disappoint. Most recently she returned with, well, not a vengeance, but with a will!