Monday, September 26, 2011

Richard Dadd

This painting is so intricate that it doesn't reproduce well on the blog. It is chock full of figures and little dramas. It is called "The Fairy Feller's Master-Stroke" painted between 1855 and 1864 while Richard Dadd was incarcerated in a hospital for the insane in England. This image is reproduced in Wikipedia and if you go there you can enlarge it and look at detail.

This is what Wikipedia had to say about Dadd;

Dadd was born at Chatham, Kent, England, the son of a chemist. His aptitude for drawing was evident at an early age, leading to his admission to the Royal Academy of Arts at the age of 20. With William Powell Frith, Augustus Egg, Henry O'Neil and others, he founded The Clique, of which he was generally considered the leading talent.

In July 1842, Sir Thomas Phillips, the former mayor of Newport, chose Dadd to accompany him as his draftsman on an expedition through Europe to Greece, Turkey, Southern Syria and finally Egypt. In November of that year they spent a gruelling two weeks in Southern Syria, passing from Jerusalem to Jordan and returning across the Engaddi wilderness. Toward the end of December, while travelling up the Nile by boat, Dadd underwent a dramatic personality change, becoming delusional and increasingly violent, and believing himself to be under the influence of the Egyptian god Osiris. His condition was initially thought to be sunstroke.

On his return in the spring of 1843, he was diagnosed to be of unsound mind and was taken by his family to recuperate in the countryside village of Cobham, Kent. In August of that year, having become convinced that his father was the Devil in disguise, Dadd killed him with a knife and fled for France. En route to Paris Dadd attempted to kill another tourist with a razor, but was overpowered and was arrested by the police. Dadd confessed to the killing of his father and was returned to England, where he was committed to the criminal department of Bethlem psychiatric hospital (also known as Bedlam). Here and subsequently at the newly created Broadmoor Hospital, Dadd was cared for (and encouraged to continue painting) by the likes of Drs William Wood and Sir W. Charles Hood, in an enlightened manner.

Dadd probably suffered from a form of paranoid schizophrenia. He appears to have been genetically predisposed to mental illness; two of his siblings were similarly afflicted, while a third had "a private attendant" for unknown reasons.

Its hard to estimate how many years Dadd spent in a psychiatric hospital but my guess is about 40 years. He was never again a free man and died at the age of 69 in a hospital for the criminally insane.

A noted famous modern psychiatrist has re-diagnosed Dadd. Dr. Kay Redfield Jamison is noted for her autobiographical book "The Unquiet Mind" where she writes about her experience with having a bi-polar mental illness. Dr. Jamison has written several books in her career (several years ago she won a MacArthur genius award) and the book we bought for my mental illness peer support group was, "Touched With Fire; Manic-Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperment". I read it and found that Dr. Jamison figures Dadd was a manic-depressive because the illness of schizophrenia would have caused too much brain damage and robbed him of his creative powers. Bi-polar people have a long list of writers, poets, musical composers and authors to their credit and Jamison includes this list of over two hundred famous creative minds who suffered from some sort of mood disorder in her book. On this list there are little symbols next to each name. The symbols indicate whether or not the individual was 1) treated in an asylum or psychiatric hospital 2) committed suicide or 3) attempted suicide

Two thesis's struck me strongly in Dr. Jamison's book. First, that if bi-polar illness is left untreated it gets worse, the cycling of manic and depressive emotions increases in frequency and the pain to the individual is so overwhelming that it usually results in their early death. The person just can't take anymore of that type of existence.

But second, that creative work is excessive and of high quality in bi-polar people at a rate that far, far exceeds schizophrenic people. In one study of writers, bi-polar or depressive people enrolled in a famous graduate program were numerous, yet there were no schizophrenics present. Dr. Jamison believes that creative gifts are given to people with mood disorders, but schizophrenics have an entirely different type of illness and are too sick to make use of their gifts if they have them. Schizophrenics can be creative, but they can't reach the genius heights of bi-polar people.

Dr. Jamison could not believe that talent such as Richard Dadd's could exist in a schizophrenic, so she re-diagnosed him as bi-polar.

I would love to see a book dedicated to artwork made by schizophrenic people.

I think the best way such a book could be made is for the author to travel to different social clubhouses and hold much hyped, quality art shows. In my experience, the best artists may be too sick and withdrawn to use the clubhouse much, but if they are invited to show their art, they may take the effort to enter the exhibition. In this way the author could flush out people with talent who are living reclusive lives. I've seen great art by schizophrenics, however, these schizophrenics were not very social beings and had no skills to promote their art outside of the community of mental health providers. In fact, of the artists I encountered, the number one barrier to the success of the artist was the schizophrenic's inability to trust. The schizophrenic people I met while coordinating an art show for two years at a social clubhouse were mostly fairy tale magical people, quiet people, whose emotions were hidden and deep. When we had our show some of the workers at the clubhouse were amazed at the talent that materialized - they couldn't predict who would be the stars of the show because these stars were barely known to them as their clients.

I think a book on schizophrenic art would encourage schizophrenics to make art. Pride in one's abilities. Legitimization of a fragile population. There could be a section of self-taught artists, and a section on artists that went to art school and got technical training before they got sick. Of course we would claim Dadd as one of our own, and his works, a triumph of schizophrenia.

A friend of mine was talking to me on the phone about a mutual acquaintance who enjoys writing poetry. We three are all schizophrenic and each live in a different state. The poet had recently gotten a poem published in a newsletter put out by a regional mental health organization. This organization went one step further to honor their mentally ill participating poets, writers, and artists - they threw a banquet. The poet was very proud that her poem was published and she was just over the moon to go to the banquet.

My friend on the telephone got quiet excited about advocating for the poet, and myself, to push our creative work into mainstream society. My friend said that our work was good enough to go up against healthy people, and that we were handicapped by only participating in situations where we were in the company of other mentally ill people. A slight inaccuracy on her part, as I have shown five times in mainstream art galleries with mainstream artists.

But I know that the work done by well minded or at least non-schizophrenic persons is so good that I can't compare. I visited an art gallery here in town yesterday and I was shocked at how good some of the art was. While I rejoice at looking at images of intense creativity, I can't help but compare myself. I knew I wasn't looking at schizophrenic art. And I knew that I was looking at people who have if not more talent than me, then at least, more ability than me. There is a difference between talent and ability. Talent is raw vision, ability is the follow through that makes talent build and build until a complex finished art object is created.

The eye that beholds a canvass for twenty hours creates something different from the eye that beholds a canvass for one hundred hours. Finesse, gloss, complexity, and detail will be more prevalent in the one hundred hour gaze.

One thing to remember about Richard Dadd and the painting that started this blog is that it took nine years to complete. Work on a single painting for that long, after you have had extensive formal painting and experience during pre-illness, and it is bound to be extraordinary. His life circumstances were extraordinary - he was locked up, no freedom, and had none of the distractions of living mainstream life. He could afford to have over those long nine years periods of productivity and periods of madness.

One of the attributes of my schizophrenia is the loss, after several hours, of the ability to concentrate. Talent has a hard time to develop because ability is cut short.

I won't let what I see in art galleries or museums effect my effort to make art on as many days as I'm able. I won't let my envy of other artist's ability poison me into abandoning the effort to make art in the first place. But I do feel, deep inside, that I should be compared with other schizophrenic artists. My friend wishing to push me into mainstream competition was nice, and supportive, but ignorant. She doesn't appreciate how good the mainstream competition can be. I would like to show with my peers - other schizophrenic artists. If this is backwards, so be it. It smacks to my senses of withdrawal from society.

That seems to be the direction I wish the most to go in, a withdrawal like Dadd's. I want to live in a place where distractions are few, freedoms aren't exploited, and I live in a prison of my own construction.

Sunshine is appreciated and does impinge upon my senses.

But I have noticed that walks in the forest do little good. Went on one recently and as I walked I studied the muddy ground of the trail. I look down almost all of the time. Its a bit overwhelming to be in nature. Nature, that essence that healthy people thinks is so magical and uplifting did nothing for me but make me nervous.

I'm afraid that nature can't break through my walls of schizophrenia.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Giorgio Di Chirico Went Bad

I don't want a life like Giorgio Di Chirico's. Look at the first three paintings, and compare it to the fourth. The fourth looks like it was painted by a different artist. But they all are Giorgio Di Chirico. What changes is his age and his ideas about what it took to be a good artist. I wonder, and I worry, that my best work was created ten years ago when I was ignorant and naive. In Di Chirico's life his best work was created when he was young. When he tried to become a great, serious painter, he ruined himself.

What many many critics have noticed is that his early works had poetry and creative vision. Like him or hate him, the first three paintings are unique for their time and were like nothing done by anyone else. But the fourth painting, it looks like it was painted by a professional artist, of this age or of any age. It is bland. It is technical. It is boring. It has nothing new to impress the viewer with, and nothing to impart in terms of feeling; it is mild, run-of-the-mill, ordinary, and totally without any power to shock or bring us to a new state of mind. It is simply, the back of a woman's head with the hair painted very carefully.

Sly shock, and unexplained unease is exactly what a good Di Chirico painting can do. The early works can make you say to yourself "Why, I've never seen a painting like that before!" The fancy brushwork of the later painting is absent. What is present is a feeling, an uncertain worry that we are in the presence of something dark, threatening, lonely, and perhaps, even majestic. A city scape full of shadows, pillared buildings, and very little that is human. Just a hint that humanity is near in the midst of deserted silhouetted buildings in a declining hour of daylight.

A young Di Chirico was part of the Surrealist movement. During 1913 he first exhibited his work at the Salon des Indépendants and Salon d’Automne in France and his work was noticed by Pablo Picasso and Guillaume Apollinaire. By 1914 he had sold his first painting and through his contact with the Surrealist leader and philosopher Apollinaire he had contracted to sell his work through the art dealer Paul Guillaume. Di Chirico is revered and reserved a place in history for the work he did from 1909 to 1919, called his metaphysical period. As the surrealist movement developed the artists who belonged to the movement were aware, and profoundly affected by Di Chirico.

Yves Tanguy wrote how one day in 1922 he saw one of De Chirico's paintings in an art dealer's window, and was so impressed by it he resolved on the spot to become an artist — although he had never even held a brush. Other artists who acknowledged De Chirico's influence include Max Ernst, Salvador Dalí, Giorgio Morandi, Carlo Carrà, René Magritte, and Philip Guston.

In the autumn of 1919, De Chirico published an article in Valori Plastici entitled "The Return of Craftsmanship", in which he advocated a return to traditional methods and subject matter. This article heralded an abrupt change in his artistic orientation, as he adopted a classicizing manner inspired by such old masters as Raphael and Rubens, and became an outspoken opponent of modern art.

De Chirico was disappointed that his new style received less critical acclaim than his old style. As a painter he believed that he had reached a new level of growth and maturity. His self view, and the view of the critics who only saw a loss of poetry and power, were askew.

I can understand his puzzlement because he truly believed that with age and study of the masters before him, came improvement. He never seemed to realize that his power lay not in imitation, but in being true to something pure and mysterious inside. Sometimes for financial gain, since his early work was so in demand, he would create a painting in the old style, and retro-date it. And, as a sign of his growing frustration, he liked to disclaim paintings that were his in private and public art collections as being other artist's forgeries.

From what little I know about Di Chirico's life I am taught a lesson of self-delusion. It is very important as an artist that you cultivate vision over technique, and not be in a position to compare yourself too much to other artists. My own fault is looking at what has come before me, and despair because I lack a traditional art school education. I can't make paintings that look like historical art because I am not clued into the techniques that created them. As a self-taught artist it is most important that I experiment and develop my own style. Vision is more important than technique. Inventiveness is more important than looking like other artists. Its easy to say, but it is difficult to live so very apart from mainstream likes and opinions. As a human being I long to be accepted by others. But as an artist I have to be prepared to walk a road where I am somewhat incomprehensible to myself.

Last Summer I went on vacation and happened to buy in an antique store a used book, in pristine shape, on paintings in the Louvre. Recently I started to go through this book and I was aghast. None of the paintings (except the earliest, pre-Renaissance) looked like anything that I do. Here I had in my lap the history of painting through the centuries and there was no place in it for me to fit. The book ended somewhere in the 1800's. Upon reflection, the young visionary Di Chirico would not have fit either, but as he aged, he tried in vain to fit into the style of the artists of history. Alas, I understand his motivation. A move away from what makes you unique to what makes you comprehensible and accepted.

In an early self portrait Di Chirico inscribed in the painting, "Et quid amabo nisi quod aenigma est? - "What shall I love if not the enigma?" and his early paintings embodied this moody mysterious questioning. His paintings don't have answers in them, usually, they provoke more questions.

All my appetite, at this moment, is to recapture the energy and the freedom of my earliest work. I made art when I didn't know what the rules were. I didn't know what art was supposed to look like. I was in love with pattern and the brilliance of color. I didn't use reference books, like I do now-a-days, to draw the human form correctly, or to draw animals so that that they look "real". I imagine that I've grown as an artist but I secretly wonder if I'm deluding myself.

I want, as an artist, to believe that my best work is AHEAD of me, not BEHIND me. AHEAD is jubilation, BEHIND is a grind and a sense of hopelessness.

It is very hard to be sane, on medication, yet to have in you the illness of schizophrenia. The schizophrenia wants, I think, to be heard. It wants to come out and make something that is on the face of it, crazy. But I've gotten so good at being sane. I've had eleven years of being out of a hospital and on a high dose of anti-psychotic medication. I've had eleven years of working toward recovery. Eleven years of relative stability. Days of steely self control - whether by my will or the will of the medication.

Sometimes I think my art can't help itself - it will be crazy on its own. Medication doesn't mask everything, it doesn't leave you creatively dead. My art will deviate from the norm despite my bumbling attempts at being a serious, mature artist. But on a bad day I despair and think that I've outwitted and outmastered myself. I worry that I've rejected the gifts of mental illness. Yes, mental illness brings with it creativity and energy and craziness. In my schizophrenic soul, I delight in expressing craziness.

I want to make art that is dazzling and has an obscene overabundance of movement.

During the cold months of this winter, when the only room that is heated to a comfortable temperature is my bedroom, I want to lie in bed and draw directly from my imagination. Drawing upon drawing of interior mental drama. Drama that mimics reality but is not gleaned from magazine photographs or other artists drawings in books.

Drawing that contains in it something that is schizophrenic.

I say this, as if I were to say, drawing that has in it something of the deadliest poison.

For in our modern, industrial forward looking world power America, craziness is a form of social poison.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Ken Grimes

These are all very large scale paintings by the painter Ken Grimes. Because they are so big, and the digital reproductions are so small, it is hard to measure their impact on the viewer. But they really do catch your eye. Especially since they are usually much much bigger than your body.

I met Ken Grimes at a benefit for a social clubhouse for the mentally ill in Connecticut around 2002. Artwork was being auctioned by mentally ill persons and persons who were self-taught. I had an oil painting there that a dealer had attached with a suggested price of $1,200. It sold for $100 to the one person who bid on it. A little disappointing. However, the dealer narrated to me later that when the winner's name was announced she jumped up and down and that her friends hugged her. So she really wanted my painting. Its nice to know it went to someone who appreciated it.

I had talked to the bidder while wine and cheese were being served during the silent auction. She is a therapist and I think it appealed to her to have artwork done by an authentic schizophrenic. I asked her if she did anything creative, and she said that currently she was trying to find a creative way to hide her trash cans so that they didn't look so ugly. I remember warning her that her husband might no like the painting - it was of two monsters and I tried to make them as unsavory and disturbing as possible. I thought that living with my painting would be a little unnerving. But she said that if she won she would hang it in her living room.

Ken Grimes was selling a relatively small giclee print that had a suggested price tag of $1,500. I thought "wow, and that isn't even an original".

Here's his bio that his gallery has written for him;

"Is a man a closed system or is something added that possibly might come from outside the solar system?" (Ken Grimes). For Ken Grimes that "something added" first manifested itself in the form of a science-fiction B-picture that he saw during his adolescence. The film, which depicted an ever-growing, brain like, alien creature, was to be what Grimes considered his first real exposure to alien intelligence.

Grimes was born in New York City on July 16, 1947, a day that correlates—the artist is apt to point out—with other significant world events, including the first moon landing and the first A-bomb detonated in Los Alamos, New Mexico, in 1943. When he was still very young his family moved from Manhattan to Westchester County, a suburb of Tampa, Florida, and back to New York City again before settling, when Grimes was six years old, in Cheshire, Connecticut, where he still resides.

Grimes's grandfather, a semiprofessional magician and inventor, left a long-lasting impression on the young Grimes. The artist was first moved to deal with the paranormal, creatively, by an extraordinary circumstance. He discovered that the same time he was working at a public lottery in Cheshire, another Ken Grimes, sixty-two years old and living in Cheshire, England, won the largest soccer pool in history. This as well as many other coincidences have become part of what Ken refers to as the "Coincidence Board."

Since the Cheshire, England/ Connecticut coincidence in 1971, Grimes's paintings have gone through a number of media and styles, but he has diligently maintained a theme of alien intervention, space signals, synchronicities, and government cover-ups. He paints only in black and white, which he maintains is the most direct way of showing the contrast between truth and deception. These bold white-on-black graphics have become more iconographs than pictures. Sometimes a written statement will take up most of the piece, as if to remind us of the painting's true purpose.

"The sooner we start a pattern of global awareness and formulate a response to side affects, the easier it will be to make the transition between a human-centered view and an alien perspective," Ken Grimes.

I don't want to paint like Ken Grimes. However, I admire the creativity in his work. Rather hypnotic. And I know that he, like myself, has dedicated his life to producing artwork. I had lunch with him once and he told me that he lives like a monk. He wasn't being light with me, I think he thinks of himself as being particularly withdrawn from the world around him. Which is a necessary trait if you are going to produce art of consistent quality and live with a serious mental illness. You have to make strict choices with how you are going to spend your time and what, exactly, is going to deplete your precious reserves of strength.

Today I feel as weak as a kitten. My husband is home from work with a cold. I wonder if it isn't something more than a cold since he is alternatively freezing and sweating. Mostly he's sleeping. He's got a bad cough too. Me, I just has some strange nausea this morning and then this persistent weakness in all my muscles. Tried to read a book on Mark Rothko but I found that I couldn't concentrate. So I watched a stupid movie. The remake of "Arthur". I thought that there was a bit of chemistry between Arthur and his nanny, Helen Mirrim, but that there was no romantic chemistry between Arthur and his lady love. Also, I think that when I'm physically ill I lose most of my sense of humor. Or else there was nothing really funny in the movie to begin with.

It is obvious that my husband can't walk the dog today. So later I'm going to attempt it. What I really need is a shower. Since I've been in bed all day long, it will be very telling how much energy I have trying to stand in the shower. My husband took a shower this morning intending to go to work and he said he could barely stand, he was so weak. And as soon as he got out of the shower he started sweating. I'm thinking he has a fever.

My brain being fuzz, and my body not quite something that I could claim as my own, I didn't paint today. I predict that it will take all of my energy just to take a shower. Poor dog, I predict she won't get a walk. But my plan is shower, rest, rest some more, and then take the dog around the block. By then the moon should be out.

The drama around taking a shower or not is something that happens on days when I don't have a touch of the flu, something that is my schizophrenia. My therapist has earnestly asked me, why is it so hard for people with a mental illness to shower? He said he got a whiff of one of his clients who he gave a ride to in his truck, and he was glad his dog was sitting between him and his client. And I said that from my perspective, it is the radical change in the environment which is a shock to the system. You go from being dressed, to naked, from warm to cold to warm, from dry to wet - and the last is borderline traumatic. Dry to wet. Not all mentally ill people have trouble taking showers, but I do remember in high school taking a shower every morning before school and it was easy. So for me it was easy to do before the onset of my mental illness. But now it is hard.

But when I do shower, I pat myself on the back and count it as a victory. An achievement. Proof of my strength of character.

Everyone measures their accomplishments according to different expectations. We all carry different rulers in our hip pockets. If I'm going to love myself, not just like myself, I have to give credit when I do something courageous. My best friend R. is paranoid schizophrenic and she has no problems taking a shower. In fact, she feels gross if she doesn't shower every day. She fears she smells. I too care about my presentation to society, and that does get me in the shower. But I swear, the only word I can use to describe the accruing of will power, focus, and building of internal pressure that occurs in the five minutes before I get into the shower is courage. I need personal courage to shower.

And even though I'm physically ill today, along with my husband, happily the forecast is good, all the intentions are in line, to shower soon. Very soon.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Textbook Opportunity

This image was done in 2001 and is titled "Electricity Makes You Float". It has been selected by an author of a college textbook on psychology to use in her new book. She wanted an image of artwork done by a schizophrenic. I don't know how certain it is that the image will end up in the book, anything could happen. But the photo editor and I have been emailing each other almost every day last week. The publishing date is Oct/Nov and the print run is 50,000 books.

Today I got an email because the author had some questions for me about the source of my creativity. Basically I was asked to explain the image. Happily there is a story attached to this drawing. Here is what I wrote back. I have been informed that my email was forwarded to the author.

I remember where I was on Sept.11th, 2001 when the Taliban attacked New York and Washington D.C. I was coming out of the shower and I turned on the television and there were these images of the world trade center in flames and the Pentagon in flames. The caption under the pictures read "America Under Attack".

I could tell immediately that there was going to be large loss of life. I dropped to my knees in front of the television and started crying from sadness and fear. As the news story developed I learned the story of how airplanes were used as bombs. I must have seen the twin towers collapse.

One of America's response to Sept. 11 was to hang the American flag on your house. I would drive down the street and see on front porches and in windows everywhere the American flag, a symbol of national unity. It felt really good to see all those flags. I wanted to be part of the people. I went to the store to buy an American flag but they were all sold out, so I thought that I could paint one on board and hang it down from the side of my window sill, facing the street.

Problem was that my imagination kept on distorting the American flag. I knew how to paint it straight but I felt compelled to add colors, bend the lines, add or subtract stars. I thought to myself, "if you don't get the flag right people will misinterpret it as disrespect. Better no flag than one that looks psychedelic."

At the same time as my imagination was distorting the American Flag I started having a psychotic fantasy. I thought that I could shoot rays of energy from the palms of my hands and blow up buildings. Somehow I identified with the Taliban murderers, and thought that I was as powerful and destructive as they. Of course the exact opposite was really true, I was feeling small and powerless and scared. People were doing things like buying survival supplies, we all wondered if another attack was eminent.

Since I couldn't draw the flag right, I instead drew a picture of a woman with rays of energy coming out of her hands and feet. She is me. I was a little influenced by the artist Jean-Michel Basquiat who sometimes draws the figure showing internal bones. You will notice that coming out of the woman's mouth are drops of blood, she is injured or sick.

Being a schizophrenic who is on medication, I can identify psychotic thought and isolate them and stay sane. I knew the thought was untrue, a fantasy born of trauma, even as I lived with the twilight possibility of it being true. Making this picture helped free me of the obsessiveness of the idea of having superhuman powers. Its like taking a dark, sick thought and putting it out there into the brilliance of daylight, and daylight cleanses you and releases you of the hold it had over you.

Making this image was part of my personal process of healing after the horror of September 11th. It is one of the most personal, and intimate art objects I have ever made.

I am glad the author chose this image.

I added that if the author had any further questions to me I would be happy to reply.

My worst fear is that the textbook makes me into a nameless schizophrenic person. In my very first email to the photo editor I said that if they used my image I wanted my name as artistic credit printed. I stand by my image and I must further stand by any psychotic fantasies I have, even if they are ignoble and seem to be the stuff of comic books. I don't mind that my illness is revealed in detail. Detail is what the hungry open minds of the young college students need. Yes I get crazy, but there is too a very human response to loss and tragedy, I mean, don't you want to know that a schizophrenic wished to display the American flag along with her neighbors? Patriotism and deep Empathy are lovely human traits of this schizophrenic. Craziness is just one dimensional, the symptoms of schizophrenia are just a small slice of the total person.

And isn't it miraculous how a delusion turns into a neat work of art? Not a totally naive work of art either, with the artist giving credit to being inspired by the work of another more famous artist. Yes, I have a several books in my library on Jean-Michel Basquiat. I've studied Basquiat and seen originals in museums. So this schizophrenic is influenced intellectually by other artists.

Nice to know that a schizophrenic can be an intellectual. The college kids need to know that as well.

For instance my current neighbor was very surprised when my husband told him that I was schizophrenic. We had lived next to each other for several years, I am a friendly presence, and yet he was shocked because he said "I thought that all schizophrenics looked like homeless people." Probably thought we were witless as well.

I don't know what version, if any version of my story makes it into the textbook. But I am sincerely happy that I was given the challenge to write it all down and translate what is in my head to words. I'm just happy I wrote that email to explain the work of art.

My husband thinks that all my works of art should have stories attached to them. Some simply don't. Some are just combination of images with multiple themes. My husband always asks, so what is the story going on here? And if I say "There is no story" he frowns and kind of shifts his weight unhappily. My husband feels that if a painting doesn't tell a story it is a failed image. Yes, he is very narrow minded. And while in his own fantasy world he thinks he would make a great art history teacher I think he would be a flop. Great categories of art he would dismiss as "not art". His favorite pieces of art? Late Renoir nude bathing beauties. They are like happy porn candy to him.

But my darling husband (who in all honesty happens to be my greatest artistic fan and usually stanch supporter) is right about one thing. If there is a story going on in my artwork my creativity gets a boost. Even better - if I feel a need to make an artwork, an urgency, a statement to put out into the world, the end result is a little bit better.

Oh, I like to make a pretty picture. Half of every effort I make is just to put into this world a pretty picture. The fly in the ointment is that I don't consider sex and violence as detracting from a pretty picture, while to most people's sensibilities, they do. My mother for instance. Any trace of sex or violence completely turns her off. She likes the things that underpin and support sanity and happiness. On her advice I did once even paint over a decapitated head rolling around on the ground with a purple pansy flower, but having done this, I looked, and felt that the painting was now too boring and to my sensibility, unbalanced. In most of my work, at the least, threat is in the air.

My mother once bought a painting for over a thousand dollars and then said she was going to place it in a safe. It was too upsetting to put on the wall. But it was a good painting, "museum quality" is what she said, and she wished to possess it. Only, she didn't want to look at it or have any of her friends look at it.

The human heart is a funny thing.

If I were to name one of the most joyful forces in this world I would say color. I can paint disturbing things in beautiful contrasts of color. Its a trick to the eye! Can you forget what the images stand for and be seduced and made happy by the color?

I think I like color better than chocolate. And I often crave chocolate.

But color and sex are a dead heat.

And lastly, I would like to add to this list of favorite things, my dog enthusiastically licking my face. She is limited in ways that she can say "I love you". But there is a purity in the love of an animal that has no equal, and injects straight into your veins, a wonderful lift of emotion.

I think that I could survive much sadness simply by the companionship of my faithful dog. She is earth medicine, life medicine, and a road to sanity. By simply being a dog she helps me to be a balanced human being.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Turtle Time

I would really like to get a turtle tattooed on my arm. On my inner arm, where the sun shines less and the skin is pale and thin and hairless.

My step-sister has a lot of colored tattoos and she takes really good care of them with sunscreen. One whole arm is covered with design. After many years the lines are crisp and the colors haven't faded. If I get a tattoo I'll have to put sunscreen on it everyday.

My step-sister's mother got a small rose tattoo on the back of her shoulder. She tans a lot, and the sun has completely destroyed the tattoo and it really looks awful. Like a dark smudge on her shoulder. So I've seen the difference between careful preservation and unthinking exposure.

There's a reason for a turtle, and a turtle on my arm. People wear watches on their wrists to see what time it is. Like wearing a watch, I want to be able to glance down at myself and know what time it is. Glance down, and remind myself, its turtle time! Time to remember to live my life as slowly and as deliberately as a turtle.

I've got an artist's pen and ink drawing of a turtle and it isn't a cute turtle, its an ancient looking turtle. Like a prehistoric dinosaur turtle. The picture says that this is a turtle with wisdom and hardiness.

The pace of society is simply too fast for me. When I try to enter the stream of normal social activity I get fatigued. Not sleepy, but emotionally drained. And after I get emotionally drained I suffer symptoms of schizophrenia.

I've been draining myself completely. Yesterday in the shower I was saying, again and again out loud, "dear God help me". When my husband came home from work all I could do is lie on the sofa and say "I'm sick. I'm sick. I'm sorry. I'm sick." He rubbed my feet and gave me extra medication.

I've come to the conclusion that I keep myself invested in living by throwing myself against a challenge every day. Usually that challenge is painting. I push my limitations and use all of my concentration on a project. I'm a person with schizophrenia who has trouble concentrating. Not all schizophrenics do, but I do. And frequently, I lack energy. So to commit myself for two to three hours most mornings to using the best of my concentration and decision making skills to paint is really rocking the boat. If I wanted to live safe and easy I wouldn't be making paintings.

It did not come natural to me being an artist. Over time its become important, but at first my true love was writing. I only started making art seriously when I was 28, oil painting at 30, and even then, there have been year long stretches when I haven't made any art and threw myself instead into a writing project.

My drawing skills are nothing special. My technique is fundamental and untutored. Do I get the medium of oil paint? Not naturally. Not intuitively. I'm no savant. I'm no prodigy. All I've got on my side is determination. I try. I try hard. Not the same kind of trying hard of an art student or professional artist because usually they don't have schizophrenia. I try hard as a schizophrenic. Someone who is thin skinned and mentally impaired. Hey, I don't shy away at that description. Its accurate.

There's a way that the owners of art galleries like to see their stock. The end product is what is judged. A work of art stands alone and is compared to other works of art. That's the way to run a business. They don't care to give you extra points because you are a schizophrenic artist. Unless of course your schizophrenia affects the creative process and the result is something outrageous to the eye. Being schizophrenic is like being Chinese. So you come from a foreign land they say. But can you paint? Does your background and culture get into your art, affect it, and make it look different from other art? Because what we are looking for, as gallery owners, is something that stands out from the average.

Turtle time informs me of a a lot of truths because I've got fixed in my mind Aesop's fable of the tortoise and the hare. The race that was run between the tortoise and the hare that the tortoise won.

The rabbit had all the gifts. He was a natural winner. Long lengs, long strides, abundant energy, easy time running, he felt confident. What in comparison did the tortoise have? The tortoise only had single minded determination. He had focus and willpower. He probably lacked humor. He was in a race where he looked ridiculous, against a being that nature had given all the gifts of speed to. Meanwhile, he was squat and short legged and carried a heavy burden on his back wherever he went. But he must have said to himself, "My God, I'm going to try. I'll set my mind on the finish line and let no other thought cross my path. I'm in a good mental space. I'm committed. Eventually, I'm certain, I will cross the finish line. I'm going to give this race the best of what I've got, I'm going to give it everything that I've got."

Meanwhile, what did the hare say to himself? It must have been all self praise. His greatest defect wasn't physical. His greatest defect was attitude. He relaxed and played and had none of the seriousness of the tortoise. How the hare must have laughed at his opponent! "You beat me, you best me, that's against the laws of nature! I can tell before we start this race who is going to win and who is going to lose. Silly tortoise, you are delusional. You shouldn't even try. For every one effortless bound I make, you have to make four painstaking shuffling steps. I'll be gone, ahead, and out of sight before you make the littlest significant progress. Eat my dust!"

Of course pride went before the fall. But what about the pride of the tortoise? He had just as much a strong ego as the hare. Remember, he pitted himself against a superior opponent. He dared to dream. Or else he set his goal singularly and committed every last drop of strength to that goal. He could not have foreseen the silliness and inconsistency of the hare. The one promise that the tortoise could make to himself and keep was that he would finish the race. That alone was a huge challenge. Maybe for the tortoise to come in second, just to cross the distance, was a win. He wanted to do something extraordinary, not perhaps win, just run the race.

If I get a turtle tattoo it is going to be in a place that I can easily see and it is to remind myself of a philosophy of life. Withdraw and hide when you have to. Keep it slow and easy. Stay committed and single minded. Turn a blind eye to the creatures that nature has endowed with special gifts. Don't envy them, don't be discouraged by their ability, just focus on what you can do and what you feel is possible. And sometimes, as Aesop's fable promises, you will win the race. The outcome is very uncertain, but as a turtle, it is your duty to simply give the race your best effort.

As a turtle, as a human, you will sleep well knowing that you have given life your best effort.

The only trouble with getting a tattoo is that I'm afraid of physical pain. For instance, I loath going to the dentist. I've fainted having blood drawn. And I've fainted having my knee examined. Kid you not, I was running regularly with my boyfriend and had a sports related injury. Just a heavy handed manipulation of a hurt knee cap was more than I could take. To say that I'm a chicken is putting it mildly. I have no tattoos, I don't know what I will be able to endure. It is best, therefore, to get a small tattoo somewhere else on my body to give myself a taste of what I'm in for. The worst thing in the world would be an unfinished turtle tattoo on my forearm.

Of course there are some tricks. I could drink before getting the tattoo or take extra narcotics. I took extra narcotics when I had my nose pierced and joked heavily with the fellow that put the needle through the thick middle part of my nose. We got along like gangbusters. Not much terror after the drugs, just flying high spirits. Alcohol puts me is a place of bliss too. I'm a very happy, floating kind of drunk. The problem with alcohol is that it interferes with my medication and for several days afterwords my mood is off, I feel fragile and depressed.

I'd have to really, really want the turtle to go through with all the pain. And I'd have to save up my money as well. I want a fellow artist, someone with natural illustrative skills, to put permanent ink in my body. If someone is really good, they are going to cost extra. Wouldn't you research the doctor who was preforming plastic surgery? See what his other patients ended up looking like? Yes, I want someone who has been making tattoos for a long time and has artistic ability that surpasses my own.

When I own artwork, I like it to impress me. I'd like to think, "I could never draw that turtle as well!"

Instituting turtle time in ink on my arm takes pause to think about the endeavor first.