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.