I don’t usually do paintings that leave me feeling vulnerable, perhaps out of some irrational fear that maybe I’ll give away too much and people might learn my deepest and darkest – which is pretty dumb, considering the nature of art. It has been a tough few weeks for my family and I. My maternal grandmother who suffers from mild dementia but still able to take care of herself, went into the hospital for a simple hernia operation and now is bedridden and can barely speak. She is still with us, however we all find ourselves in the beginning stages of grief, not only at the inevitable, but at the gut wrenching helplessness.
Dealing with my grief and watching my mother’s grief as she slowly loses her mother, while still managing to be strong for her and for all of us, has been painful and humbling. Overwhelmed with emotions I haven’t experienced in a long time, I needed another outlet besides crying to process what I’ve been feeling, so I turned to the canvas.
A little bit about the process & painting:
I started with a 24x36in canvas that already had two failed works on it that I’d painted over months earlier. Starting with a used canvas is less precious and intimidating vs starting with a pristine white canvas. I sat in front of the canvas for a solid 20 minutes before I made the first mark, which I did with black fluid acrylic paint. To avoid over thinking, I sometimes like to do my initial sketches in unforgiving materials, such as ink or paint.
I didn’t have a specific image in mind when I began this piece, but I wanted it to represent what I’ve been dealing with the past few weeks and I wanted to be more figurative than usual – I had recently seen and been inspired by the paintings of Louis Fratino.
Once I made those first marks, what took shape was a self portrait of sorts. The figure is in bed and slightly contorted, similar to how I had seen my grandmother the night before – a painful image I can’t get out of my head. The figure is strained, but also trying to find comfort, almost as if hugging herself in a cozy yet lonely nest of sheets. I chose oil paints, although high a maintenance medium, the colors feel more natural and blend more organically than acrylic. I went for colors more subdued from my usual saturated palette, I kind of approached this like a very fancy coloring book.
As the canvas filled up with paint, more of the story took shape. I added a phone at some point which did two things for me, added a source of light and another element that helped evoke the loneliness of grief - as I am sure I’m not the only one scrolling endlessly through whatever to find some kind of distraction, connection or comfort. Ultimately what came to be, for me – is a portrait of self soothing in the face of something difficult. I don’t usually make it a point to explain my work not only because most of it isn’t very explainable, but also because I want people to bring their own story to it. If this painting evokes something different in you, I would love to hear about it.