Thursday, June 25, 2020

Chaos and Creation in the Backyard

Johanna Spinks with her Sir Paul McCartney portrait. 

I thank Sir Paul McCartney for the title of this newsletter. It was the title of an album he put out a few years ago, one that we have framed in our hallway thanks to my husband who worked on the album. I was walking past it today and the words suddenly struck me: They perfectly sum up the last few months of trying to create things amidst the utter world chaos in my own isolated backyard high in the mountains - also known as my studio. 

It's hard to even find words to write about creativity when so many people have died, and continue to. When so many frontline health workers have risked their lives for others, and continue to. And when so many people of color are literally fighting for their lives in a battle that's long pre-dated the pandemic, and will continue to. Life is still in chaos let's be honest. The Covid 19 virus is surging today in Los Angeles County where I live. Art certainly hasn't seemed that important to me at the lowest of times, when one is scared for faraway family and friends - and for the world in general. Just give me a couple of Payday candy bars and a numbing Netflix binge. That'll do. 

I have been creating though, specifically the pictures I show here. More importantly I have been thinking a lot asking myself: Why do I paint at all? Why do I have this fascination with painting people specifically? What gets me out of bed and into the studio? Should I do something else when this is all over?

I consider myself a storyteller through the faces I paint. I am telling the sitter's story, but also mine. I didn't have the easiest of childhoods, particularly in my teenage years when I was often a runaway completely unable to get on with my parents. I finished my high school living on a social security weekly payment, nannying for a child, and studying as best I could, determined  to pass my final exams. My head teacher told me I was going to fail at life. I was lonely and afraid for my future. Not many people know this about me. 

I grew into an uncertain young adult, worrying more about what others thought of me than I thought of myself. An unapologetic people-watcher my whole life, I studied people for clues about living. I also watched myself oh so endlessly. Don't mess up, don't say the wrong thing, don't wear the wrong thing, just don't get caught out. 

Motherhood helped me start to understand myself - along with some great therapy - but it wasn't until I started painting, especially painting people, that I found myself. I found a higher connection, my spirit, my soul, my art God, and a deep understanding to trust this. I have trusted this every single time I paint a sitter from life. People often told me when I was painting my "Face of" public portrait project (almost 150 faces from life) that I had great empathy for their life stories being told to me as I was painting them, that I was a good listener. I considered this the highest of compliments and still do. 

Like everyone else, I have no answers to the continuing Covid chaos. This situation is bigger than us all. But I do know the "enforced" thinking during this terrible time - of all this chaos and creation in my studio - has reminded me of my calling, why I paint at all, and why I want to continue painting faces in my own way  until my time is up. I am in a renewed appreciation and grateful for life itself. 

One of the things that's so remarkable about the pandemic - a story we've all been affected by in some way - is how many other people's stories have continued to unfold alongside it. Mundane, remarkable, heartbreaking, and unbelievable stories that may or may not ever be told. In its broadest sense, I think art exists to make sure some of those stories get told in some direct or indirect way. With any luck, I'll be one of the ones to tell some of them down the line.

I wish for everyone a safe harbor from this chaos, and wonderful creations in whatever form they may be.
I was contacted by a client from San Diego who wanted to commission a large figurative piece with the feel of Victorian painter J.W. Waterhouse who we both love. This was 48x58", oil and gold leaf.  The presentation was a first for me being  complete with masks, gloves and social distancing. 

This mixed media commission was for a family in Kansas and created in hush hush tones as it was a surprise for the mom. It was created from many different photos with the aim of a 'beach-y' contemporary style. 22 x 28". Luckily my brave shipper remained open. 

As the art guru Robert Henri said in his epic book The Art Spirit: "I would rather see a wonderful little child than the Grand Canyon." I agree. This is 12 x 16" and created via my palette knife.

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