Friday, July 13, 2018

A Discussion of a Painting--"Expulsion from Eden"

Expulsion from Eden, acrylic on canvas 16"x 20"
When showing one's art--something I liken to walking down Broadway without a stitch of clothes on--there is going to be almost any kind of reaction imaginable. Some folks shrug their shoulders at my work, uninterested, while others, seeming to feel vaguely uncomfortable and at a loss for words tell me tactfully that 'I have quite the imagination'. Some say it is 'nice', the comment I truly detest the most, and others get huffy and offended, which really doesn't bother me at all.

But there are others, the ones who stand only an inch away, sometimes with a pensive finger tracing details as they gaze, these are the beloved ones who make my heart flutter. In fact, one of the best compliments I've ever received is that viewing my paintings is like reading a rather complicated book. THAT is exactly what I hope to achieve, and when this effect resonates with others, the painting is successful.  

My paintings seem to take mini-lifetimes because I am working hard to communicate a rather precise narrative using imprecise things like visual symbols and objects. I really am trying to tell a story, work out something in my subconscious, and also share a point of view silmultaneously, but hopefully do it in such a way that the viewer doesn't know I'm saying anything at all.

Recently, I've been reorganizing my inventory, and when I came across this piece it occurred to me that it would be fun to break it down, to reveal to you exactly what was in my head at the time it was created. If this exercise takes away mystery and depth, please let me know...I can only hope that it actually adds more questions than it answers, and that my interpretations might just make yours all the more intriguing. Often viewpoints are shared with me that I never actually thought at the time of the creation of the work, but hit me between the eyes with new revelations. Art is personal, after all, to the creator, and also--to the viewer. 

A list of the elements 

The suburban houses. I started this piece wanting to portray the kind of neighborhood in which I grew up. The tract houses were fresh and new and their blooming pastel colors were emblematic of the optimistic times in which they were built. In my hometown, we are partially surrounded by mountains, and I wanted to portray that dizzy, delightful feeling of looking down at dollhouse streets in miniature from a lofty place. How orderly, manicured and civilized it all seemed back then.

The little girl. The girl represents myself, mostly because my paintings are unabashedly autobiographical.  She has a 'banana seat' bicycle with a flowered plastic basket, right out of 'The Brady Bunch'. (In real life, my basket always held my treasured doll, Wendy. Yes, there once was a time that little girls played with dolls and played with them for many years.) This child is free in the way that we were back then; she is a child who has never heard of a play date, a child who is completely unsheltered and yet somehow more innocent than kids are today.

The jewelry box. This is a replica of one I begged Santa for one Christmas. In the real one, a tiny ballerina went round and round, dancing to the sweet little pings of a lullabye. In the painting, this little figure has been replaced by the 'nuclear family', two parents and two children. To me, there is so much in this section. A question of whether the nuclear family was a good or bad thing, or only a myth. But also, most importantly, the concept that the family, the most powerful and primary building block of society has been trivialized, reduced to a minute toy tucked inside a child's plaything.

The butterfly.This is meant to be a part of a collection, pinned down with yellow stick-pins, an allusion to something beautiful and free that now is stiff and dead.  A symbol that points to so many things, our society, the way our children are being raised, our desire to achieve happiness by accumulation of objects--so many things.

The black and white TV screen. While on the subject of ideals and death, this scene portrays the kind of hometown parades I knew as a child, and the patriotism that went with them. I wanted to show how strong we felt back then, and how clear our vision was about ourselves as a nation, and how faded and obscured that is today. There are many, many ways to interpret this aspect of the work, but I see sadness in the way that the world is now so complex, and so adrift from any sort of collective, bedrock truth or principle.

The birthday cake and the woodcut. The birthday cake is reminiscent of the big, fluffy cakes my mother would bake when we were kids. How many of us growing up with Baby Boomer parents have pictures or grainy film footage of us sitting in a high chair, digging our little fingers and faces into such a cake...minus candles, of course? This is again another allusion to innocence, and also perhaps a taste of hope. It is juxtaposed next to a roughly translated copy of a medieval drawing of Adam and Eve forced from the garden of Eden. The sugary sweetness of innocence is right next to the bitterness of our consequences.

The orange shooting target. For months, I labored on this piece, feeling like I was just wandering through a disjointed  mess. The range target symbol that was my true Eureka moment. This was how I could emphatically state that not only were all these treasured qualities fading away into sad memory, they were in danger of being stomped out of our consciousness forever. I also was thrilled by the double meaning of the target symbol, it's provocative and complicated nature. Not only does it point out danger, but it also could be seen as a laying down of the gauntlet, protecting something which it is worth risking life and limb.

I believe this piece took almost half a year to complete. I have a strange compulsion to drive myself crazy with difficulty, and I knew I was dealing with all sorts of crazy challenges compositionally--the diagonal line of the little girl's arm, always the difficulty of hands and fingers, but for a dyslexic like myself, attempting a vanishing point was quite the feat. There was so much I wanted to say, all without screaming it from the rooftops.

It is up to you to decide what you think of it, but I still think it says what I wanted it to say.


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