Sunday, April 1, 2012
DIGGING DEEPER WITH HEARTS AND WINGS
Heaven and earth fascinate me. So do life and death. I’m intrigued by quantum mechanics and cosmological theories of the origin of this universe. I’m enamored of digging through soil, tunneling below the surface, and the idea of sailing into deep, eternal space.
I own one standard shovel, and a small trowel about the size of a pointy hand. I haven’t dug myself to China yet, or fashioned a pair of wings from feathers and wax, but recently I’ve painted fanciful flying gear, and floating hearts on paper and canvas. I’ve had fun imagining holes underground, under water and in the sky. I’ve acted out Flying Lessons that I’ve given to myself to embody desire for flight. I haven’t given up hope!
Somewhere on my 65-year journey I’ve picked up the image of the heart to represent the self living on earth, and wings to symbolize soaring beyond the places we know. I keep digging down within these two metaphors to see what I might discover. I haven’t found God yet, but I have located a shining something within me. Today’s blog is the story of two new paintings from a nest of five that I thought I had finished in 2008 during a month long artist retreat at the Hambidge Center in the Northeast Georgia mountains.
Meet Thing One and Thing Two, my affectionate nicknames for Heart of Gold, and her sister Hearts in Space.
Thing One’s been on a longer journey, or perhaps I photographed more of her makeovers.
In the fall of 2008 at the Hambidge Center, three odd-shaped hearts in an isolated city emerged untitled as an 11” x 17” drawing in charcoal, ink, conté and oilstick on paper.
During the same residency this drawing became the study for an acrylic on canvas painting entitled Hearts in the City, 30” x 40”. I look at the slide now, and see that I had created a bright, 2-D world, still missing inhabitants, but decidedly more ominous. The hearts are scarier and their location in space is uncertain. I’m not sure what was happening in that cityscape, but I put her aside until 2009, when she traveled back to Hambidge with me for another month-long painting residency.
I had a glass of wine for dinner one night, returned to my studio cottage and courageously painted huge swirling circles of white paint across the canvas. It was a relief. I was thrilled with the intervention and my bravery, but I did not know how to proceed with the imagery that was still visible.
This February, two years after the act of creative destruction, I pulled Thing One out of the basement and put her back on the easel. I reinstated some of the hidden imagery, reduced the scope of the white circles of paint, and added new red striations underneath.
A week later I cloaked the checkered hearts in shrouds of whitewash. I wanted to honor their presence without them dominating my new conversation.
I added one realistic heart astride a set of ribs, and the outline of the horizontal clavicle bones. I think I was bringing the human body into the scene.
I refined the color,
added wings, and renamed her Heart of Gold.
Thing Two has a shorter story. The journey was as long as Heart of Gold, but I was not as diligent in photographing her phases.
In the fall of 2008, during the same Hambidge Center residency, I made the initial sketch for the then untitled Hearts in Space, with flying eyes I called harpies. Like the previous sketch for Hearts in the City, the drawing is of three isolated, odd-shaped hearts at 11” x 17”, executed in charcoal, ink and oilstick.
The imagery in the later acrylic painting of Hearts in Space, 30” x 40”, appears cartoonish and buoyant, but two-dimensional again, with one story to tell. I love the gray roiling storm clouds, but something was missing.
In 2009 I brought this painting to my second Hambidge residency a year later. I unleashed three wide white, pink and light blue painted circles across the canvas, leaning my whole arm and body into the action, with the wine glass in the other hand. Then I didn’t know what else to do, except be relieved, and happy. She rested in my basement for two years until this January, when I brought her upstairs and began painting. I shrouded the old balloon hearts in translucent white, reduced the number and importance of the eyes, and created a night sky. Over the month I added bubbles on either side rising from (or going down into) dark holes in space. I added and removed tiny constellations along the bottom of the piece, added an outline of feathered wings across the white hearts, and then covered most of the feathers in a wide span of butterfly wings. I painted three translucent, realistic hearts connected by dots, redrawing and refining them several times. I reduced the width of the 2010 invasive circles, now comfortably letting them swirl in the cosmic background. This is the mature painting of Hearts in Space.
I am indebted to my four artist friends in two creative critique groups who have helped me dig deeper and fly higher. Thanks to Ruth Schowalter, Lynne Moody, Susie Winton, and Mary O'Horo.