In my own painting process, I invite myself to give visual expression to my deepest, most authentic self in any given moment. Sometimes in this process I have felt “in the dark,” in the unknown, frustrated with the way my painting looks...or perhaps my “critical taskmaster” is in full swing trying to direct or sabotage my efforts. In any case, as I continue to show up and confront those feelings, paint them, paint where I am instead of where I want to be, a shift occurs...a new image is born; a release happens inside of me, something transforms in me as well as on the paper. As I surrender to this “anxiety,” this “death,” the “hell” of the experience, then the shift is made and space for transformation occurs. The seed has to die (expand) in order for the blossom to grow.
I’m not suggesting that I must paint “death.” I’m saying that in entering the experience of giving expression to my authentic self, there is commonly a time that I bump into an aspect of myself that needs to die in order for the creation to complete itself. Somehow in the death of a part of myself, a belief...a self-image, something that holds me back from becoming deep and true, a transformation takes place and a new, more complete, expression is born.
In one painting in particular, I began with an image that I wanted to paint.....a mysterious, hooded woman with catlike yellow eyes, a black panther face at her belly, her standing in wild red, orange, and yellow flames. Parts of it were fun to paint, and it was an interesting image, but as a whole it was not flowing or unfolding...instead, I was trying to “make it happen.” I painted for several class periods and at that low point in my life I wrote little notes on the painting like... “I’m so alone”, “who cares”, “Life is bullshit”. One evening I realized that I did not even feel connected to this painting at all. And what I really wanted to do was plunge into blackness.
I began slowly and really paid attention to how it felt in my body...to put the black paint on with my hands instead of a brush, to feel the tactile sensation, get more connected. After all, I was about to “wipe out” a four-foot-tall figure in my painting. I wanted to be mindful of how that felt to me every step of the way. If the figure says stop, stop. If my body says stop, stop....and then see. The figure had to go, and my attachment to her had to die ... something else was wanting/needing to be born.
But, this destruction actually felt great, even freeing. I painted it all out....solid black. When I returned to the painting a week later, I noticed I had missed a small spot. Not for long, though...black, black, black...and I was putting it on thick. No light could shine through from behind! At the time, I was feeling uncomfortable about something else I had been doing that day... so an inner conversation ensued. “I’m afraid people are going to think I’m stupid.” “What would be the silliest, stupidest thing you could paint, then?” “Well, I think first-grader flowers are pretty dorky.” And I thought of how my daughter liked to draw little flowers in one line across the bottom of the paper and a sun up in the corner, sometimes with a happy face. Not that it’s stupid when she does it, of course, only me! So that’s what I painted...just getting into painting what I thought was silly and stupid. Then, ugh...back to black, black, black again.
This time I felt I was down to the bottom of my cellar, in the Void. So I asked myself, “What is the simple bottom line about where I am, how I feel, right now?” Tears were rolling down my face, my heart felt like it was breaking, bleeding, and my stomach was in knots. So I painted just that. I painted 40 or 50 purple tears falling from the top of my painting and I enjoyed making each one glisten with a little white highlight. I painted the heart with abandon...reds, pinks, purples...I relished in the experience of finding the perfect consistency of paint to make the heart “bleed.” Then I dripped some yellow below the heart and painted the shape of a jumbled up knot. All this against my perfectly black background. And now, standing back to look at it, for the first time this painting held magic for me.
I took it home and looked at it every day. I loved it. It was simple and clear and real. When I returned to class a few weeks later, I was no longer in the funk I had been. I was flying high and feeling too big for my little body. Now, how do I bring that into this painting? As a seed breaks open to reveal a sprout, so I painted a green stem coming up out of the heart. Leaves, like an airplane plant, blossomed up and out and to fall around the heart...two leaves became green hands to “hold” it. I added paper, paper, and more paper. Then sky blue paint, and more of it. I used up all of the sky blue in the studio on two separate occasions! The eyes that the tears belonged to appeared in the leaves. Then, atop the leaves, bloomed the biggest orange tiger lily I’ve ever painted! If I could have continued painting, I would have painted an orgasmic woman rising out of the flower. But, it was time to stop for now...I would paint her later.
However, later, I was not flying high, not the orgasmic creature wanting to burst forth from the flower. In fact, I was pretty pissed off about something. I noticed in the center of the flower was a shape that looked like a mean little Kali-like batwoman, waiting for me to give her some detail. “Sometimes you have to paint the batwoman in order to get to the beautiful orgasmic woman.” Once again, what I want and where I am are not the same. When the batwoman was finished, I was delighted with her perfect little microscopic white fangs and claws...and I knew it was all complete. I followed an earlier impluse and tore the edges of the painting to an unorthodox shape. It was done. I had completed my journey...not the way I imagined...but I continued, down to the “bottom” and returned with a painting that, still today, fills me with awe.
And what I know in my life, from this painting and others, is that there is always a way through for me, even if I can’t see how or where to go. And that when I’m the most deeply honest with myself and others about how I feel, where I truly AM, no matter how painful, frustrating, unbearable it may be...when I finally and fully acknowlege, accept, and even embrace this, the true magic of transformation begins. And something new and previously unimagined reveals itself to me.