This portrait is sometimes called by a number of titles. At times Winter Walk at the Ridges (which will mean something if you know Athens, Ohio) and at other times it is Self Portrait in Red Coat (to say, yes, this is me and the red coat is important.) At other times i t is called something else, which I will explain later.
The portrait is based on a memory and so it seemed fitting to flatten and simplify it, the way some parts of a memory stay bright and clear and others fade over time, while others may not be remembered quite correctly at all. I had a photograph to help me in this case, although the painting is quite different from the photo. There is no blue jay in the photograph.
I added the bird because I was reading Bakhtiyar Ali's novel I Stared at the Night of the City while I was working on this painting and feeling the painting was lacking something. I came to the point in the novel where Ghazalnus is attempting to teach a teenage girl who does not know how to imagine anything how to use her imagination and he tells her, "The first imaginary bird is the hardest." (So sometimes to me that is also the title of this painting, but I have been very tired and have neglected to look into the legality of using quotes as titles, especially when they are in translation, so for now it is my semi-secret title.) I thought of the imaginary bird in other ways, as of beginning a new painting, a new relationship, other leaps of faith when you head off in an unknown direction and you do not know what the result will be. I have not painted many birds and painting small objects is particularly challenging for me, but it became quite important that the bird was included in the painting and the bird was the last aspect to be finished (I cannot bring myself to gender the bird, so I will leave it up to the viewer to decide.)
There is a great deal more texture in this painting than is clearly visible in this photograph. I enjoy texture and in the age of digital art including texture is becoming more important to me. Slight ridges in the snow and in the bark of the trees, some of the curls of hair are raised, some small nubby bits in the sweater. It is in many ways an undetailed painting and yet there are touches of detail if you know where to look for them. The snow that clings to the bark of the trees, the markings of the blue jay's wings, I remember this particular sweater very well. It was a beautiful color and texture and it was smotheringly hot and had very tight sleeves for its size. (But I loved that color and sometimes I wish I still had that sweater.) So I was very careful to reproduce that lovely color and texture and that stifling neckline... Some memories have been augmented. There was less snow that day, but I wish there had been more. The photo does not lie, but it is my story and my memory and so I create the day a little more to my liking...
I am wearing the hat and coat I really wore, both of which I still have, although the pockets of the coat have both ripped through the seams. I love that coat. Struggling with a chronic illness... I still want to feel pretty. The red coat always made me feel pretty. Part of having ME and intractable migraine is that I am very limited in the activities I can do, so in this portrait I wanted to explore a memory of something I used to enjoy very much-- taking a long hike in the woods on a snowy day.
I chose to paint my face in a style closer to child-art, flattened, doll-like, a little playful. This was a fun day. A walk with a friend. And in an era where contemporary art often feels very serious and hyper-realism has so much visibility, I miss the joy of looser art forms. I like to think of my grandmother's puppets (her puppetry business was called Voyageur Puppets) and how much joy she found in her work and how much joy her work gave to others, both through her shows and her many puppetry workshops. Her work was always about theater, about telling a story, and so this painting too tells a little bit of a story.
This piece is from 2014, but it seemed fitting to write about it now, since I just went back to make some adjustments and since my last blog post was also about trees. There were some aspects of this painting I wasn't quite satisfied with before, and I went back to it and touched it up. I'm much more satisfied with it now. I felt very drawn to this grouping of three trees ever since I first laid eyes on them. The roots of the center tree are particularly fascinating, but the trees as a trio are also very striking for their shapes and the pair of two light, slim trees, with the darker somewhat damaged one. I used to love to go to this trail in the fall and sit to listen to the wind in the leaves and watch them fall. Being among trees like this is spiritual experience for me. As with Ellis Hall Maples, I conceive of this painting as a tree portrait and each tree as a unique individual.
This painting is adapted from a photograph I took of the brilliant red maples outside the Ellis Hall building at Ohio University. I'm often fascinated by trees and their uniqueness. When I paint a tree, I feel I am painting a kind of portrait and I like the tree or trees to be the focus of the painting. In this particular piece I wanted to give a sense of the leaves and branches swaying in a light wind, of looking up into the trees and being aware of nothing else. Just their colors, the sunlight streaming through the leaves, and their gentle motion.
Glacier with Northern Lights started with me poring over photos of ice during the winter. Winters where I live tend to have a bit less snow than I would like, so this was a way to satisfy my longing for snow. In images of Iceland I was fascinated by the juxtaposition of ice and greenery. For the painting, I knew I wanted to create something with texture and I decided to incorporate coarse sea salt into the glacier ice (there is some in the sky as well, to suggest a star field.) Of course I had to make this a night scene so i could include the Aurora Borealis. Hints of pink in the glacier reflect the sky above. Glacier with Northern Lights is another visit to a place I will probably never see in person and so I've created a stylized work open to imagination and interpretation.
BHawaii was created after pouring through many, many photographs. I'm fascinated by the light patterns waves create in shallow water, as well as the undulating shapes their motion creates in the sand, so I placed these elements at the forefront of the painting. The water is shallow in the foreground, suggesting the viewer is positioned on or near the beach, but I left the beach out of the foreground in order to keep the focus on the water. Instead, the beach curves around outside the purview of the image on the right side and appears again on the horizon. I've never been to Hawaii, so this is another work created based upon a combination of research and imagination. I've read about other people with ME/CFS using their imaginations to help cope with not being able to get out much (or at all) and I find this really helpful. Being able to imagine is important for everyone and one of the reasons I choose not to paint realistically is that I find paintings that are less realistic work better for me in opening my sense of imagination.
Wave in Pre-Dawn Light is also based off of a photograph from the trip to Long Beach. I worked toward an even more simplified version of the wave form, drawing the eye to the place on the lower left side of the painting where the wave meets the sand and there is a little reflection indicated. A sense of deep inner stillness is important to this piece. in this place there is no sound but one's own breathing and the ebb and flow of the ocean.
This work is very loosely based on the same photograph I used for Long Beach, but it's much more expressionistic in nature. The surf is very heavily painted in impasto to give a sense of the strength and motion of the waves. The clouds are wisps moving quickly across the sky. This is a much more energetic work than Long Beach, which is has a sense of stillness, while in Windswept Beach the focus is on the sense of motion.
This work is based on a photograph from a trip my family took to California about twenty years ago. We took the trip in April, but the beach was very cold. I only have the print of the photograph I used as a reference-- no negative (it was taken with a film camera), so there is quite a bit of interpretation in the painting. It was important that there be a lot of empty space in this painting. I wanted this work to be simplified, for the beach and the sky to act as color fields and give a sense of meditative stillness.
Bora Bora Coastline is based off of multiple aerial views of the coast of Bora Bora. It's not a place I've ever been and one I am unlikely to visit, but the magic of tropical beaches and their colors lingers in my imagination. I am fascinated by aerial views depicting shapes of the waves as they move toward the shore. In this painting I am particularly fond of the tiny impasto waves along the beach.