24" x 36" acrylic on canvas
I remember the first drawing I ever did that caused a scene; it was a back to school “What I did on my summer vacation" assignment. I drew my family skinny dipping in a lake on a hot summer day, a welcome break from hot, dirty farm work. The only problem was that I drew my dad with his penis hanging all the way past his knees. I was 6. My classmates were horrified. My teacher was blatantly amused against her better judgement. My dad became famous. I became infamous.
That experience really led to the “why” of artmaking. Why do I paint? Storytelling. I was in my early 20’s when I began painting fairly traditional portraits and figures, but my work quickly became narrative when I became interested in the internal struggle of people and in their story. It was when I found myself struggling with mental illness that I began the work of getting to know myself through this new lens of sadness, and became interested in my own story. I was suffering from panic attacks, anxiety disorders and severe depression. I was very curious to know if anyone around me could tell. What did it look like? So I began a series of photographs and portraits of myself in those extreme moments.
I painted a lot of people like that, in their moments of pain. I found their pain was often lost without the context of their story. Or if it wasn’t lost, it was too hard for people to stay with and look at; it was too painful. That is when I started experimenting with layering paintings and including imagery. I was searching for a beautiful way to incorporate instability and vulnerability into my paintings. I scratched and gauged the skin, I used grease pencils and oil pastels that resisted the acrylic paint, I obscured features and I layered in symbols, mostly flowers and animals. In essence, I was scarring and damaging the work, the same way people are, but in a way that was beautiful. One of my favorite symbols to use is the octopus. I had a “holy shit!” moment one day when I read that when an octopus is stressed it eats itself. Yeah, holy shit!
I also knew that I couldn’t paint dark, or I’d never make it out alive. When I was 15 I became obsessed with Henri Matisse’s painting of the Red Room. It was a total color immersion experience: red on red on red, separated only by pattern. To this day I use the brightest colors I can get my hands on. I immerse myself in bold colors and intricate patterns. I never mind if my work is unsettling or offensive to people, but I also don’t mind if it is also a little bit beautiful.It reminds me of a quote by Tom Waits, “I like beautiful melodies telling my terrible things.” I want to tell you terrible things. I want to talk to you about sexual assault. I want to talk to you about anxiety, depression and suicide. But, I need you to be able to sit with it and not turn away. I want to talk to you through a beautiful melody. What person overcoming emotional vulnerability isn’t a little bit unsettled, but also beautiful? Resiliency is beautiful. Coping is beautiful. Barely hanging on is fucking beautiful.