"All art is a kind of confession, more or less oblique. All artists, if they are to survive, are forced, at last, to tell the whole story; to vomit the anguish up." (James Baldwin)
24 days ago I joined artist Elle Luna's #100DayProject Instagram challenge to make or do something for 100 days. Participants are doing all kinds of marvelous things, but I decided to focus on either writing or painting (#100DaysOfWordsPlusPaint). One of my creative goals for 2016 I started off strong, but then got sick for a week, so I'm a bit behind. I haven't decided if I'll make up the days I've lost along the rest of the way, or just let them be what they were (days I couldn't do a damn thing) and silence any self-inflicted guilt I have about it.
At any rate, today is day 24 and I'm easing my way back into the studio by continuing to experiment with with washes-a technique I started exploring before The Plague hit.
Wash= Water + paint, mixed, spilled and splashed across a surface...guide it with the brayer/hands/brush/tilt of the paper or canvas, lay flat, wait for it to dry, repeat with a new (or the same) color. Effect: intriguing stains of color.
Artist who piqued my curiosity and sparked my desire to give washes a try: Heather Day
Here's to trying new things and pushing myself and my creative process to go farther than I think is possible.
I've been pitching my words + art to various publications and places almost weekly since January. Some incredible opportunities have come my way over the last few months from simply sharing my work + process out there on Instagram, but I've yet to have a pitch accepted. Overall the rejections haven't impacted me too greatly. I've only had two really hit me in the gut and one of them came to my inbox yesterday. 5% of it what was mentioned about the paintings I submitted was constructive. 95% of it wasn't and that 95% crushed me unexpectedly when I read it.
I'm also experiencing my first mixed episode in months. Cycling through slight hypomania (which for me usually manifests as agitation & anxiety) and depression simultaneously is unsettling. My thoughts form, splinter or fracture into bits, then fuse together repeatedly and trying to get anything substantial done is damn near futile. I always feel untethered and raw, like an exposed nerve ending when I experience these types of episodes. I'm assuming that's why yesterday's rejection landed like a sucker punch to my soul instead a slight but bearable sting like the others before it.
To cope, I did two things: abandoned my To-Do list and allowed myself to get lost in painting without thinking. It got me through the day and served as my oxygen mask.
That's what painting has become for me...the oxygen I need to survive.
"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.
I 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?
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.
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.
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
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.
Real talk: I cried when I first heard this track after downloading this album awhile back. SOBBED. I was driving and had to pull over to gather myself. I've been hoping he'd do a video for it and here it is, featuring footage from the Civil Rights Movement interspersed with clips of protests and dash cam video evidence of what's taking place today. "Seems like new news is the old news just from a different angle" indeed. Take a look.
Hold on, y'all. We gon' make it. <power fist>
Be it a brayer I've abandoned for a brush as I work on a piece, or my favorite matte purple lipstick ("Shameless" by Revlon), this one is mastering the art of imitation at age two. He's my constant companion in the studio, quietly underfoot, his little hands searching blindly along the edges of my work tables for something to grasp while I work. Nothing is safe or off limits no matter how far I think I'm moving it beyond his reach-he finds a way to deftly, and swiftly get paint, brushes, spray bottle, brayer, palette knife, paper towels, water in his hands when my focus is elsewhere. I've begrudgingly begun to accept that if he's awake, there is no working in the studio without him next to, behind, or underneath me silently watching or working just as diligently as I am. He watches, then imitates both in the studio and around the house, spraying the walls, couch or television with water from my spray bottle he grabbed off my table or tagging his brand new shirt or wall with my lipstick.
His brothers enjoy drawing and sometimes playing in paint (Alex always always always uses a brush, no fingers, because tactile aversion), but he's the first of my children to show such an affinity for it...an intense focus on it, which intrigues me as I watch him.
Come to think of it, I painted quite a bit while he grew in my belly those nine months. A lot, actually. Maybe that's why it seems so flow out of him so effortlessly, in a way that it doesn't with them. He studies my movements and attempts to replicate them on his own. I've often looked down to see him foam brush or brayer in hand, quietly painting a corner of a piece in progress, mimicking my movements and strokes with whatever tool I'm using.
I think it's time to get him his own easel, brushes, apron, and paper. Perhaps his own brayer as well-that seems to be his favorite, which has me smiling as I type this because it's mine as well.
Oh you beautiful, mischievous, joyful, getting into all the things all the time boy.
What an explosive and intricate work of art you are.
Who: Alisha Sommer
Her Work: "In my work, I have the unique ability and privilege to choose people and projects that truly inspire and excite me. As a storyteller, my goal is to capture what it is to be human through words and images.
Currently you will find me photographing every day moments, working on my literary journal, BLACKBERRY: a magazine, writing for Annnapurna Living by Carrie-Anne Moss, and co-facilitating small writing workshops. I also work with indie brands and businesses to craft creative, engaging visual and written content that connects with and grows their communities."
Why I Love Her: Whether in person, with words, or with her captures on Instagram, Alisha captivates my attention. Her artistry both ignites and enraptures my own. I read her words and instantly feel a connection to her or an experience she's describing, as though I'm right there fully immersed in the moment with her. Her prose and visuals are poetry and she's the kind of writer I aspire to be. She pushes me to dig deeper and seek out new ways to create, to speak, to write, to connect. Her Liberated Lines poetry course? A must take.
Alisha, thank you for being an inspiration in my life, but for also being a kindred, and my friend. Thank you for pushing me to discover and embrace the parts of my creative voice I've either forgotten or shied away from. And THANK YOU for giving us a space to have our writing seen and heard. Salute.
Her work: "Dear God, this sh*t cray?" Themes of faith, divinity, history, individual and collective responsibility, and kinship loom large in my work. With color, shape and a variety of media, I explore the questions that keep us up at night - "What do I believe?" "Why am I here?" and "What's next?"
Why: I first met Christa and was exposed to her work at a conference in 2014. I literally gasped out loud when she handed me her card and and a few other self-care goodies that were all designed to spark my own creativity. Her visuals are offer that minimalistic look that's all the rage but unlike others who practice this aesthetic in their work, she doesn't sacrifice color. Her work is soft and simple, but she also keeps it vibrant and bold.
Your artistry pushes me to find the beauty in life, Christa. Thank you for being an inspiration-Salute!
Kendrick Lamar shut it DOWN at this year's Grammy's with a searing, liberating, artful, PEAK BLACK performance of "Blacker the Berry" and "Alright" I'm still reeling from. Check it.
I was not expecting this...
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.
Scored some new Stabilo pencils of various colors from FLAX Art & Design in San Fran last weekend, so I took 'em for a test run in my art journal. Train of thought as I played around: Intersection & identity. What do both look like in my daily life?
Back in August I had the pleasure of seeing Janelle Monae and her Wondaland artists at The Independent in San Fran for their The Eephus tour.
I sat stunned and exhilarated outside when it was over, telling my friend it was like seeing Prince & The Revolution 2.0.
Since then, I've been impatiently waiting for each artist to release either visuals for the music they performed that night, or singles of what isn't on The Eephus, for download. Jidenna, specifically performed three songs that I didn't want to stop dancing to: "Extraordinaire", "Long Live The Chief", and "Knickers". (Confession: I wasn't a Jidenna fan until seeing him live. He converted me.) Last month, he dropped the visual for LLTC, and FINALLY released the other two as singles for purchase, which I downloaded. IMMEDIATELY.
"Knickers" has been on repeat in our house and it's been my anthem in the studio coming into the new year. The song is both celebratory of Blackness and social commentary on how it's perceived, treated, brutalized by our society and the systems within it. It's a lyrical mix of cultural exhortation and critique over an inescapable beat. I haven't been able to stop singing "show up, show up!" as I've gone throughout this busy week, so when I saw an email in my inbox informing me that the video just dropped, I watched it. IMMEDIATELY. And danced. Because I just couldn't contain myself.
It's exactly the kind of start I needed to my Friday after a week of trying new things and being hard at work in the studio, so I figured I'd share. Maybe you need a little dance party to help close out your week. I did. I DO. So I'm going to get back to it. Enjoy.
Happy Friday, friends. "Now we made it..."
P.S. Did you peep the tear gas/gas mask/police imagery near the end? #ArtAsProtest. Jidenna, Monae, and Wondaland are fantastic at this.
I spent some time today quickly throwing initial layers of paint down on some 12x16 single sheets of canvas...just to test out new color combos, lines & composition, looser shapes and different impressions & imprints with the brush and brayer. I wanted to explore a more abstract, deconstructed composition. Turned out to be weird but wildly fun.
This last one made me laugh when I finished because of what I saw when I stepped back to look at it. I see an iguana or lizard's face, & big eyes. Which to me is a hilariously cruel trick for my eyes to play on me because I have a severe reptile phobia. (Just typing that made my toes curl!) What the hell?
So now of course I'm curious: what do YOU see in this one and the others?
...and yet another beginning because "Being complete with a painting is being complete with yourself, and that’s both an ending and a beginning." (Stewart Cubely)
"What are you willing to go unrestrained for in your art?" she asked me. "What's keeping you from really tapping into and unleashing your creativity, your artistic voice?"
I drew in a sharp breath and exhaled slowly. I knew the answer(s). They've been tugging at me and begging me to give in for months now. A year, really.
Be unstructured, they beg me as I fight to fit and tailor myself to what isn't meant for me.
Let go, they urge as I fight to maintain control. I'm not good at yielding. Survival mechanism.
Trust, they encourage as fear presses my toes into the edge and screams "BUT WHAT IF THEY DON'T APPROVE...UNDERSTAND...ACCEPT...SUPPORT...LOVE...YOU" in my ear.
You're overthinking it, just be, they admonish.
Follow me, the Muse beckons. Pursue me.
I want to, I whisper back. But...
I hold too tightly to the need for approval and acceptance, to be understood, to be valued, liked, loved. Maybe it's because I'm the oldest (pesky birth order). As much as I've worked through it in therapy, I have to say the effects of rejection, verbal abuse and neglect from my father still linger; choking, throttling, and gutting my words and paint. I haven't spoken with him since I was 17, but his criticism still plays on a loop in my head as background noise...as does the policing and disapproval from family and friends over the ways in which I choose to be expressive, to be vocal, to simply be myself.
Unrestrained? I'd like to be. But first I have to let go of the fears and insecurities stifling me. Lord knows I'm trying. What if I did? The potential answer terrifies me just as much as the attempt.
"The greatest majority of artists are throwing themselves in with life-preservers around their necks, and more often than not it is the life preserver which sinks them."
- Henry Miller
What would our words, visual art, ideas, dreams, living and other forms of creative expression look like if we ditched our life preservers?
Here's to kicking fear in the throat and finding out.
"Breathe out...breathe in...This is the new America. We are the new America."
The triumphs, complexities, contradictions, and dangers of The American Dream and its institutions artfully crafted in song and visual...
Or a weak attempt at social & political commentary through song & visual & pop culture's distorted lens?
Watch, listen, analyze, and decide for yourself.