Painting

A Rerouted Personal History

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 "A well-documented feature of trauma, one familiar to many, is our inability to articulate what happens to us. Not only do we lose our words, but something happens with our memory as well. During a traumatic incident, our thought processes become scattered and disorganized in such a way that we no longer recognize the memories as belonging to the original event. Instead, fragments of memory, dispersed as images, body sensations, and words, are stored in our unconscious and can become activated later by anything even remotely reminiscent of the original experience. Once they are triggered, it is as if an invisible rewind button has been pressed, causing us to reenact aspects of the original trauma in our day to day lives.

...still, all is not silent: words, images, and impulses that fragment following a traumatic event reemerge to form a secret language of our suffering we carry with us. Nothing is lost. The pieces have just been rerouted." (It Didn't Start With You: How Inherited Family Trauma Shapes Who We Are and How to End  The Cycle  by Mark Wolynn) 

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Unloading

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Haven't been in here for 3 days, (back pain, ugh) but I stepped in today and poured out what I've been carrying, because the studio is the one place that can bear the full weight of it...and me. I stepped in and to the canvas because we can't deal with what we have going on inside of us until we have the courage to face it.

Painting does that for me: gives me the boldness necessary to confront myself with grace, compassion, and honesty. It holds the burdens my arms/heart/mind/soul can't.

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Questions, Answers, and The Power in Choosing How to Explain (or Not)

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"It is as difficult for [the Action painter] to explain what his art is as to explain what he himself is; but, since he paints with the question and not with the answer, explanation is not an issue." -Elaine de Kooning, 1958

I've mentioned this before, but I think this is why in part, writing has become secondary for me, for the first time since I was 13. For me, writing places a (subconscious) demand on me to explain and answer...in most cases before I am fully aware of what desires to be expressed or have an emerging understanding of what I'm experiencing internally. With writing, I can't just ask the questions, you know? In the past, words have been a means of processing my thoughts and emotions and keys to freedom, but more recently they have felt like chains, binding me to the floor, restricting fluid thought, movement, and expression.

** 

"You need to write your book," he said to me last week. "People need to read it. It could help people."

I nodded but said nothing in response because explaining my Why for not giving myself to that process is difficult for me to articulate coherently. I know the book is there, in the queue, waiting. I know the format, the themes it'll explore, and even the title. But I can't bring myself to go back to writing it. The words it requires feel

like prison.  

 ***

I think the truth is I don't want to use words to explain certain parts of my story, of what the inside of my mind, heart and soul have looked like these 33.5 years; I can do the work to excavate what the The Impact of events in my life look and feel like, but I balk at the demand to describe it in words. That doesn't feel like healing or liberation to me, when I think of explaining it or my living in that medium. I'd much rather just paint the questions and let a piece explain those things that I can't quite wrap my words around. Painting is sanctuary, freedom and peace. 

**** 

Like I said, I know I've discussed this before, this retreat from words and full throttle immersion into and preference for paint. I continue to share about it because it's a very real aspect of my creative process, and I've had to work my way to accepting it as a reality, which hasn't been easy. While it has felt freeing at times, this gravitational shift also hasn't felt comfortable or familiar during others. So I share it-the messy middle, the discomfort, the joy, the freedom I find in embracing the nuances and growth that occurs within this entire process in the hopes it encourages you to do the same regarding your own creative process-whatever that may be, and especially if you create in more than one medium.

Don't be afraid to to yield yourself to the shifts in seasons and rhythms, to let one replace another in the driver's seat. Scratch that-be afraid. You can be afraid. That's normal. I am about 80-90% of the time, honestly. Just don't let that fear paralyze you. I'm getting better at that-at acknowledging the fear but not allowing it to restrict my movement or expression. Be afraid, but do and give yourself fully to the process and your creativity anyway.

MOOD: Desperately Seeking to Break Out of This Cycle

When I open my eyes in the morning: "I'M GOING TO PAINT TODAY. I WILL be in the studio, to hell with everything else on my to-do list."

9am-7pm: *Do (Most/Some/A couple) All The Things on said to-do list*

7:30pm-8pm when the kids go to bed and I've crawled into mine: "I didn't paint today. #%!?$&@! And I only accomplished 2 out of 5,437 things on my to-do list. The studio is too messy. I didn't spend enough time with the kids. Shit-I left a load of laundry in the washer all day. I forgot to call Kaiser. I didn't order those supplies. Forgot to hit send on 5 text messages to friends, and respond to that email. Also forgot to sign that contract. I hope I got into bachelor completion program. WHAT WILL HAPPEN IF I DID?! I wrote nothing today. Did Brennan take his meds? Wait-did I take mine? Why am I so tired? <insert random thought/worry/concern/guilt> WHAT AM I DOING WITH MY LIFE?!" *cue anxiety attack*

11pm: *scroll through Instagram one last time*

2am: "Damn that dream was odd as hell. Oh, the baby's in the bed with us now. What time is it? Why is Morris Day and The Time's "Jungle Love" stuck in my head? OMG THE SNORING. Don't check Facebook."

4am: "OMG I KNOW WHAT TO PAINT NEXT." 

7:00am: "I'M GOING TO PAINT TODAY. To hell with my to-do list, TODAY THERE WILL BE PAINT." 

Rinse and repeat for the last 2 weeks.  

Must. Paint. SOON. When I go too long without it, my mind and mood become untethered, un-centered. Gotta get anchored. (This is getting ridiculous, Life. Back off.) 

Surviving, Living and Thriving Within White (And Other Oppressive) Spaces: A Visual Study

"An artist’s duty, as far as I’m concerned, is to reflect the times. I think that is true of painters, sculptors, poets, musicians. As far as I’m concerned, it’s their choice, but I CHOOSE to reflect the times and situations in which I find myself. That, to me, is my duty. And at this crucial time in our lives, when everything is so desperate, when everyday is a matter of survival, I don’t think you can help but be involved. Young people, black and white, know this. That’s why they’re so involved in politics. We will shape and mold this country or it will not be molded and shaped at all anymore. So I don’t think you have a choice. How can you be an artist and NOT reflect the times? That to me is the definition of an artist." -Nina Simone

I had a friend ask me last week why I was turning down an opportunity to write for their publication, and why I don't use this space to adamantly speak out against issues of injustice as I used to. Why am I not writing words about Trump and the impact of the GOP's racist, xenophobic rhetoric beyond a an occasional Facebook status? Why am I not sharing more of my thoughts on the near daily incidents of brutality against Black and Brown lives, or continuing to speak out on racism's impact on our daily lives? From her perspective it seemed to her that I've grown quiet, and she was curious to know why. "You seem more focused on painting, which isn't a bad thing...it just seems odd," she said. 

Well...she's right. I have gone a bit quiet here. I don't write about racism and brutality like I used to. At least not here, and aside from an occasional election related status on Facebook, I've cut back on doing so there as well. Where she's wrong is in her assumption that my going quiet means I've stopped caring or paying attention. I haven't. If anything, the swelling tide of ignorance, violence, and injustice churns and crashes into my consciousness daily. I'm still "woke", and couldn't close my eyes or heart to what's happening to our bodies and within our society if I wanted to. As a Black woman, an empath, and as an artist it's impossible, and even if it were, I would still encounter and bear the social construct of race upon my being. Short of leaving this life, it's inescapable. 

I mentioned before that I've been struggling to put words to what I'm witnessing. That's still very much true-there are days where I simply do not know what to say, and any words that do appear feel...inadequate. When this happens I make the choice to share and amplify the words and brilliance of others above the noise instead of adding my own. I also make the choice to follow my intuition and turn to paint to process my thoughts. 

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am more focused on creating a statement on paper or canvas than on a computer screen. Paint...feels more natural to me right now than words do. I'd much rather allow it to speak for me those things I can't quite verbalize or translate into something intelligible you'll understand. So that's what I've been doing. I've shifted my focus from the oppression and brutality we experience as marginalized people to the impact both have on us, challenging myself to communicate it visually. What does it do to our psyche, our spirits, our health, our bodies? What does the point of impact look like? What occurs inside of us as we encounter oppression, fight to survive it, and dare even, to thrive in its pervasive shadow? 

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Internal processes. That's been my visual focus and exploration as I take in the news each day, or experience something that reminds me I am an Other. As a result, much of my latest work has involved me using lots of white space. With each piece, I'm thinking about what it looks like to thrive and be unapologetically Other in white spaces, and questioning what those internal thought & heart processes look like. 

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Sometimes I have an idea, and an image will come and imprint itself upon my consciousness, quietly (or loudly) telling me its story. Other times I simply have no idea what's going to come out-it just becomes a matter of listening to my intuition and trusting where it's taking me as I work. 

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I'm still here and I still have much to say. Like Nina, I believe as an artist, it's my duty to continue using my voice and creative expression to speak to issues that are a matter of life and death for us. I have no choice but to reflect these times in my work, be it written or visual. I'm just consciously doing so these days in a different medium, still hoping to cause others to pause and think critically about what they think they know about themselves and Others. I believe in the power of visual art to spark and foster conversation around these issues just like words do. 

I could use words, sure...but it's just more liberating to process and study with paint. For right now, this is my activism and how I choose to be involved. I think as artists...it's less about the medium, and more about using what we have to create those things that challenge, empower, and set free. Write, paint, sculpt, sing, dance, orate, document a moment or event with a photo-whatever it takes. I think it's about yielding to wherever our creativity leads us intuitively. Our challenge is to reflect and give voice to the times we're in. Like Nina, I think anything less is a waste. We have nothing to lose but our chains.

"  It is our duty to fight for our freedom. It is our duty to win. We must love each other and support each other. We have nothing to lose but our chains."- Assata Shakur

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Smudging

I went into the studio this morning looking for bubble wrap. When I realized there was none to be found and I'd have to take an unplanned trip to Target I grunted something unintelligible out of frustration. On my way out I passed by this piece on paper I've been re-doing over the last week. Without thinking much of it, I started to gently smudge the lines of charcoal and pencil I'd made. It was quick, perhaps not even 5 minutes from start to finish...but it calmed my mind, released the tension I felt piling up in my shoulders, and released the pressure valve that always gets stuck on Monday mornings when I'm trying to B-E PRODUCTIVE and flailing haphazardly  in the process. 

I think I can say this piece is "done". I still haven't washed off the smudges.

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Studio Day: Experiments on Rives BFK

Painting on paper versus canvas is still new to me. I'm finding I prefer it when I want to use my brayers instead of brushes to apply and blend layers of paint, or use pencils to feature drawing elements. It's...smoother. Over the last five weeks I've been using a pad of mixed media paper, but today I pulled out the sheets of Rives BFK (a type of printmaking paper mould made in France) I'd splurged on back in December. I love the weight, absorbency, texture, the deckled edges, and how beautifully paint shows up on its surface. 

Move over, canvas. Mama's found a new love. 

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