I am very excited about this piece. For some of you, this might look like a total stylistic departure, but I don't see that at all. Something has changed and this image has a very unique story of it's evolution. I painted it a few days ago and since then it's been on my wall so I could dissect it and find out what part of my brain all the little pieces were retrieved from.
Returning to the world of painting was not a scheduled event. Truth be had, I've been avoiding painting with a fierce determination. The idea of getting out my brushes and thinking through steps was so overwhelming. Those feelings were starting to lead me down some dark paths too. The thing I've been struggling a lot with lately is that all my normal outlets have been gone. This brain tumour is only one story of many, because life goes on even when you get laid up with your own crisis. Long story short, I am processing far more than what I mention on my blog. Other people's stories are intertwined with my own.
Normally when I am overwhelmed, I drive somewhere and listen to music. I might sing along or I might pull over and have a good cry. Same goes for running or painting. Common thread - be by myself, listen to music and let stuff out. The past two months have had a growing frustration of never being by myself, not being able to drive and feeling too overwhelmed to paint. When I hit my low point the other day, wallowing in my self pity I had a moment of clarity. I asked myself what my next step was - stay here wallowing or aim to get somewhere else taking small steps in a way that I could manage.
This changed everything. Everything. I was in control of my life again.
So, I decided quite suddenly that it was time to paint. Now, I knew that just deciding to paint something was too much, so I decided to recycle or finish an old painting. You see, I have a basement full of unfinished experiments where I started something and then turned the canvas against the wall and moved on. I know better than to let a perceived failure trip me up for too long. Better to paint and learn what you don't like then not paint. At least you learned something. That was my starting point.
Truth be had, I am not totally sure when this was painted. Looking around at similar sized canvasses and the subject I was pursuing I believe this is probably from around 2008 due to the acid green and the illustrative style, I know for sure it is no later than 2012 because the Aesop's fable theme finally made it into a linocut then. I do remember that when I painted this, I was grappling with some ego swelling praise as well as some flattery and I was struggling for a way to articulate it. However, when I got a little ways into this piece it felt too flat.
The crazy bright background with a self portrait and two key symbols laid out front and centre just felt a bit too obvious. Too limiting. I wasn't sure how to bury the meaning and bring more nuance to the piece, so I dropped it. When I went to the basement a few days ago and spied it, I saw new potential and was quite excited to use that simple image as a jumping point for something far more complex.
An aside, typically I am a fairly representational painter for most of my commercial work. I enjoy the challenges of translating the world around us with a good deal of realism. However, a lot of my still life subject matter is highly codified and personally symbolic. I don't like to give away all my secrets so I put my thoughts and feelings down in paint. I also have a very private, personal style (like the painting above, Procession) that comes up when I am grappling with something big and just want to express pure emotion.
I also have a totally different art style that comes up more often when I'm doodling. That side is full of repeating shapes, spirals, flowers and dot patterns. Below is a set that I worked on in 2014 for an Easter service. That was totally fun and crazy and illuminated with black lights. Yes that is an actual VW bug hauled in from a junk yard.
The thing is, I have always had a hard time marrying those two styles even though I regularly try to unite them. I look at that bird in the early version of "It's All Over But the Shouting" and I can see it appearing in sketchbooks from the early 90's. What goes around, comes around I guess.
I was trained to do self portraits on a semi regular basis because it is good to struggle with depicting yourself. Everyone will know if you are lying. Success comes with telling the truth. As we look at some of my old work, you will notice that there are some key features to my illustrative work and some key features of my representational work and it seems I keep trying to marry the two in my self portrait work. As I look at my most recent, post brain surgery painting I think I have finally had a measure of success.
I am not going to lie, I am very pround of 1996 Michelle for painting the above image - she was only nineteen years old. Crazy. This self portrait came from a photo taken in 1994 in Austria, a very formative time in my life. You can see the illustrative attempts emerging in the top left hand side with those interlocking shapes that are also present in the sketchbook image above that. That little bit of drawing/brushwork goes all the way back to my early childhood. I am actually surprised it didn't make a full appearance in "It's All Over But the Shouting" it evolved a little there into line work not dissimilar to the amazing striped socks I'm sporting in "Prodigal". I've known for a while that my personal symbols evolve in meaning, it seems they are also evolving in appearance now too.
I can remember painting this unfinished piece but I have no idea when. I'm thinking it is late 1990's possibly early 2000's. I'm still doing the light colours, the interlocking shapes and bazillion wash layers. The canvas has staples on the side, not the back. It could be from Halifax times or New Westminster times. Hard to say. Definitely done before the early version of "It's All Over But the Shouting"
Where this derailed was I could tell right away I didn't get my eyes done right. Nose and lips are okay. Face shape is passable. Again, this is just a likeness on a canvas with some illustrated bits and it didn't leave me with a lot of options. There is no core to this painting and I knew it so I stopped rather than trying to retro fit meaning to it after the fact.
This was definitely painted after the early version of "It's All Over But the Shouting", the green is way toned down and representational imagery was higher on the scale for me at this time. This is meant to be a formal self portrait and I even purchased the gladiolas and posed for the source picture. There is a whole lot of subtext going on in this piece. I started it in 2013 and was unhappy with it because it didn't reach into the illustrative/symbolic world as much as I hoped it would. So I revisited it with a Molotow paint marker in 2014 (around the time of the Crazy Love sets - you will see similarities if you look) and put all the line work in. You can see circles (with the same meaning as my plate paintings) emerging on this piece as well. That was a symbolic step that was harder than it looks for me to take.
While I really like this piece, the thing that has kept me from loving it is there is something not quite right with my eyes, they seem a touch too small. I also don't love that the line work is just a screen placed over top of the representational image. They are visually separate. They are working together here, and I think for the framework of this piece it is a successful partnership, but it is not quite a true marriage of the two styles.
So, what exactly happened with "It's All Over But the Shouting" that is different? Long story short, my brain isn't prioritizing things in the same order. I went with what my brain said felt right and it was different than what it would have been a few months ago. This required new strategies and new work arounds and it was very very exciting. So exciting that the day I painted this it was like my head exploded with visual ideas and directions to take and I could barely eat and didn't go to bed until after 2:00 am (which is super late for me) I could barely contain myself trying to sift through the wealth of ideas.
Instead of placing the line work over top, I anticipated it and wove it into the structure of the piece itself. Instead of highlighting the obvious symbols with outlines and bright colours screaming "look at me, I'm a symbol, symbols are super important" I buried them because those symbols are there for me, not for the viewer. If you find them, you can do what you like with them. I am very aware that a painting is a conversation between the artist and the viewer and you will do with them what you will. That will depend on your own history, your cultural context and whatever these things remind you of - this is the wonderful thing about art. When you look at a piece, it is like we are dancing.
I cannot wait to keep painting. I cannot wait for our next dance.