nov. 13, 2008
i’m preparing to do a grant application, and they want to know everything i’ve done for the last 20 years. so i went thru everything.
i’ve been a working artist since the early 80s, and tho i’ve gone in and out of the commercial world (cook, secretary, graphic artist) i’ve always made paintings and i never stopped. my brother calls it a vow of poverty, but he’s been selling mortgages, so hah. it’s not deprivation when you learn to live on nothing just so you can stay behind and make your art while everybody else puts their energy into a third party’s goals. it’s a calling.
i looked at the last 20 years of my work. how do you compact 20 years into 40 slides when your output has ranged from a high of 200 paintings a year down to 3? do you show evolutionary trends in your work, do you show phases, do you make an artist’s statement out of the represented work? there’s a whole politics and philosophy about grant writing that i instinctively do wrong, so i never get them, so i shouldn’t bother trying and just get back to work painting.
one of the things i was doing but never finished or continued was a series of paintings from when i was trying to cope with cancer. this was back starting in 2001. these paintings were coping paintings, inner dialog paintings, facing the hard facts of death paintings. they were ugly. i destroyed them when i’d had enough.
and they didn’t do me much good because tho i got the feelings out and expressed, i was too caught up in them to do more than scream incoherence in gaudy colors.
so i sat and looked at the drawings. and then i came upstairs to the computer and looked up “cancer” and “art”, and found a whole lot of very expressive, very raw, very unpolished statements of what it’s like to be stripped of all the social niceties that entertain us while we work like zombies.
it’s another worldview altogether. my work fit right in.
i thought back on a couple of my attempts, now painted over with peaceful scenes. i thought how i’d do those ideas now, after 7 years of living with death. and i came up with idea so compelling to me that i gessoed three two foot by four foot canvases, and am dividing my time between starting these new paintings, and finishing my novel, and getting around to all the work i have to do before xmas. now that my class is over (bye girls) i can turn my attention to various fabric production efforts. when i’m not writing or painting.
one of the paintings is fabric artlike because i’m going to cut out part of the canvas and sew in a bra that’s going to become part of the painting.
another painting is going to be an anotomical chart woman on the canvas, with painted silk overlays showing her before cancer, after, wearing a wig, etc.
and i’m going to be annotating them with all sorts of commentaries on what i think about cancer and the cancer industry, etc. i won’t get started here.
* * *
many months later.
because there’s really nowhere else to put them, here are my completed breast cancer paintings.
A Side – oil on canvas, breast prosthesis, prosthesis bra, hand-made and -dyed canvas skirt, 24×48
B Side – oil on canvas on polished stretchers, mirror, sterile gauze, surgical stitches, pink ribbon, pink wrist restraints cut from hooters sweatshirt
this double portrait functions as a dialog between the innocent, enthusiastic, optimistic perfection of inexperience – and the sagging, scarred, greying voice of what passes for wisdom. it’s all the accumulated knowledge that i as a mother wish to pass on to my daughter, even tho she won’t listen – she’s facing in the other direction and is damn well going to make her own mistakes.
this painting is meant to be approached, touched, tried on. you can poke the daughter’s bra and feel the spongy silicone of a fake breast, you can lift her skirt to see if she’s wearing panties. her pose and smile invite you to touch her. it’s the same with the obverse. the mother’s face is a mirror. you can go right up and stick your right breast into the empty side of the bra, and feel what it’s like to wear a prosthesis on the other side. you can put your wrists into the restraints and tilt your head to show in the mirror, and feel the strain of the unfamiliar posture.
i especially wanted to drown the paintings in pink, because i have real trouble with the marketing of breast cancer, the industry of breastcancer fundraising, the politics of cancer, and pink just seems to symbolize the sickening-sweet polyanna attitudes of those who’ve never faced death but would like to sympathize for a few moments.
oil on canvas, gray washes on gesso, 24×48
a self portrait, i crouch naked, my wound raw, under the onslaught of medical advice. this one has more anger in it. it’s easy to get angry at the platitudes that drop out of the mouths of the medical profession. well meaning, perhaps, but they are all attacks on individual autonomy. if you listen to the doctors and do what they tell you, then you go thru a circus, all gaudy distractions and false hope, with treatments that leave you mostly dead. the first step is to learn to see the advice as coercion, and yourself as the target of a megaindustry. it takes real courage to listen to the little inner voice and step outside the cancer mill.
encaustic on masonite, linen and cotton string, teased-out cotton balls
this is one of my planet series of encaustic paintings. i included this painting of my mammogram because it is such an orb, and its details are very similar to some of the moons of saturn. the inside of our bodies is as wondrous as the outside of our womblike planet.