Friday, July 19, 2013

Harnessing Emotions to Explore the More Difficult Themes

"Bravery by the River Flow"

I find it difficult to point blank produce art about extremely serious topics. One way to get into a topic is to do visual research, searching for photographs that stimulate a response, edify. A second way is more abstract: when one is in an extreme mood, one can harness the feeling to redirect the concentration away from personal topics and into a more universal, though intense, theme. 

Above is a painting just created yesterday using the second method. It has difficult content, but is a relatively safe image to view.

Painting with the red, feeling the intensity of the symbolism of blood or molten lava, honoring the heroes and heroines that have faced blood or disaster in all walks of life, reminded me of a series of tiny gouache paintings I had created years ago, using the first method I mention above, photographic research.

Back in that era I was discovering the horror of the brutality of mankind, and to process this information I began a series on genocide, inspired by documentary photography from politically distressed countries, places I had never traveled up to that point. A few years after producing the series I visited the general location of one of the brutalities I had depicted in paint. I was dumfounded that such an innocently natural terrain (so similar to my own childhood environment) could house the human atrocities I had beheld in the photographs. 

When one makes art about horrible events one wonders about issues of integrity. I really wasn't sure how anyone besides me would view these images. I knew I was honoring the individuals I painted, but I didn't know if this came across to the audience. At a small art showing a friend of a friend bought my most horrifying painting. It depicted a raped young Guatemalan woman, clothed and deceased, her arms crossed over her chest. Her hands had been severed and lay, palm up, at a small distance from the sides of her shoulders. The woman's face was peaceful. This painting was an accurate, though simplified, portrait of a real event in a documentary photograph.

I was so surprised that this piece of art should sell. I didn't ask why at the time. About a year later my friend took me to visit the new owner of the painting. The little painting had been beautifully framed, double matted in a manner that led the eye directly to the image. The painting was hung in direct eyesight, on the kitchen wall. Near all those knives. 

Why?!? I looked sharply at the new owner, who was watching me. She smiled sadly and explained. She was half Guatemalan. Her grandmother had died in a very similar fashion. My little painting was there to help her honor and never forget.

When we are mindful we are all visitors to this woman's kitchen, facing the facts of our own brutality. Or, if we can't go there, at least most of us can see enough "other" to honor the heroism of the stoic souls who are able to wade through very disturbed waters, whether they are fighting for their own causes or for the causes of a larger population. Policemen, highway patrolmen, military, doctors, medics, spiritual guides, even our grandparents battling distressing times. I am constantly amazed by the bravery I see in this world... thus the painting, above.