Friday, December 21, 2012

Adam, Eve, and the Devil

This painting measures 22"x28" and was the most complex piece I've ever attempted.

Sorry folks, but no matter what I did I couldn't get the last two detail pics to load in right side up.  I'm a computer idiot.  If you click on an image it will slightly enlarge.

Its a painting of an old biblical story, done in outsider art style.  By someone with a mental illness.  Does my illness show or is this just creativity?  Schizophrenic art is known, for those that are unmedicated usually, to have an abundance of too muchness - crazy energy.

In the last week of finishing the work (which I loosely estimate as having taken 5 months to complete) I had two petite nervous breakdowns.  Been doing so well in life that when I cancelled my therapy appointment because I couldn't get out of bed and drive to the office, my therapist said that I probably just had the flu.  Since my only complaint was inability to move and weakness of body and mind, no drama, he said it wasn't certainly a schizophrenic breakdown.  He did that therapy thing to me, "I'm listening, I'm listening, don't you believe I hear you?" which means "your simply being neurotic, but I'm not going to jeopardize our relationship by confronting you so I'll just appear to go along with what you think".  But I did quite fall apart.  No mental illness symptoms like in the past, no crying, no suicidality,no delusions, no mania, no depression, - my only complaint was that it was very boring not having a head to use.  I understood that my concentration was fucked, couldn't read or watch tv, and later in the evening had a hard time talking or making eye contact with my husband.  Nice husband served me dinner in bed.

Happily, after each day passed, I got a little stronger until my next breakdown.

So I worry, am I on a path to madness.  Since its the holiday season had to cancel two dinners with couples from my husband's job (one dinner with his boss, sorry boss, my wife just had a petite nervous breakdown she isn't up to drinks and dinner) and can't travel to Maine for Christmas in a fishing village by the sea.  Mom is coming down to see us and sleeping on our couch Christmas Eve.  She thinks my father at Thanksgiving had so traumatized me that it is now absolutely necessary I have no further contact with him.  Petite nervous breakdown is solved in her book.  What she doesn't realize that for a while there before she came to visit I had nausea anticipating our meeting each evening leading up to the event, and after one visit ended, hyperventilated and lost feeling in my fingertips.  On better terms with mom now, but my therapist has made commits about how she is a toxic person and at times abusive (exactly what she calls my father, a toxic person, and so she says, you must not have toxic people in your life.  Oh the irony.).  Too bad I love very much this wounded, bullying person.  And she needs me to love her too.  The drama isn't all my parents fault for who they are.  I'm convinced that I'm way too sensitive and take on the emotions of others on a deep, unprotected level.

So more about the painting.  It was first designed as a drawing for a smaller canvas.  Yes, more idiot that I am, all the detail when I first drew it was even tinier.  Had the drawing enlarged 15% and extended the rays in the sky leading out of the tree and redrew the plants on the ground to make it fit a larger canvas.  The rays were rather nebulous and blank in the drawing.  But as I started painting them I first got the idea for the swirls, then later the angelic writing.  Thats what all the tiny symbols inbetween the blue swirls are, angelic conversation about the big event that is transpiring.  Hey, probably in Paradise angels are singing all the time.  I figured the english language is made up of the alphabet, a series of symbols, so I would create my own alphabet.  But I wanted the painting to be interesting, so it was important that none of the symbols repeat.  For a while there I would wake each morning and for an hour of prime concentration, in a drawing book, struggle to make symbols that were new and different from anything else in the world.  It would take about an hour to get a third of a page finished, tough going.  Since the symbols were a late addition, it was fortunate that I had extended the rays in the sky from side to side to fit a bigger canvas - it made more room for angelic writing.  I have enough symbols in my drawing book now that I could probably fill two more Paradise skies and still not repeat a symbol.

When I was designing the drawing the rays were a problem, blank though they were, because they had to be a width so that Eve's hair would not be bisected.  I only knew that the rays would be different colors, and if her elaborate hairstyle (nod to Frida Kahlo) had a line going through it it would be pictorial disaster.  So I got out transparent paper and made paper rays, to position them, and a ruler, to get the spacing even - it was all about math and the priority to frame Eve's hair just right.  At that point I titled the drawing "All about Eve's hair".

I had the idea for the tree of life to have a pattern of leaves that were all original designs.  I didn't look at any reference material to make this painting, no pictures of nudes, no plant life - so I know that what you get is my imagination doing its best to look real.  Oh, one picture I did use was a 1940's Dior couture model for the Devil.  Her dress is called "The New Look" and it was a revolution in fashion dressing.  The devil is not innocent, so she is dressed in the best, while ignorant Adam and Eve are naked.   I tried to do naked as well as I could.  After being familiar with some outsider art nudes I know that the human mind isn't too clever when it comes to sex - most outsider artists butcher the human form because I think we are shy and don't "peek".  Some outsider artists simply haven't ever had sex either.  I know I've been around nudes, but I know too that I don't particularly "peek".   The leaves in the tree are far more distorted than the human form, plant life seems to insist upon handling more liberties.  As long as the primary color is green to suggest leaf life your good to go.  I used all my tubes of green for the tree of life.  I like to paint colors straight from the tubes, which my art school trained father thinks is very limiting.  Bully for him.  Maybe I'll grow into mixing more, since its been now pointed out at Thanksgiving that I am a fool.  But you should see my collection of green tubes of paint!

I read recently an anecdote about the famous photographer Richard Avedon.  A young man who was just starting in photography asked the master for his best advise.  Avedon said that if you go into a photo shoot with an idea about what your picture will look like, and you get just such a picture, then your shoot has been a failure.  What you want is the unexpected to happen, and an end product that trumps your expectations, for expectations are small when the creative process takes over.  In the end this painting looked nothing like what I imagined it would.  It morphed, it elaborated, it vexed, it veered, and then it really did turn out better than what I had planned.

I really liked the journey I took to make this painting.  My only hope is in the future to go on more such wanderings.  Planning mixed with inspiration would be an apt description for my painting style.

And maybe, just maybe I am a little mad.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

New Painting, "Shot to the Head"

This finished oil painting is called "Shot to the Head".  I am slowly working a more ambitious format. This canvas measures 22"x 24".  Click on the image to see it enlarged.

The painting was planned by making an initial drawing while I was on two different types of antipsychotic medications.  So it actually started over a year and a half ago.  The pencil drawing plan was put away while I finished other oil paint projects.  A lot of the small pattern in the piece, such as the swirling sky, the striated green ground, or the stripes in the cats, was added after I had come down on the antipsychotic medication.  Everything in the original drawing is still there, except much is added.  I think less meds resulted in a painting that has much more energy and interest than what was first visualized. 

Also, a side effect of being on so much antipsychotic medication was a lot of suicidal thoughts, and in general, wishing I was dead about twice a week.  Or so my husband claims I used to say with regularity, "I wish I were dead".  Nowadays, on very little antipsychotic medication, that phrase never, ever passes through my lips.  I love my life, I love painting.  Lowering the medication resulted in the end to suicidal thoughts and the complete dissipation of depression.  Naturally it was instinctive to plan a painting like this one if you are contemplating your own death.  But if you are generally happy, like I am now, I don't know if it would occur to me to have such violent imagery.  Never say never, I don't know what future compositions will contain, but if you are generally happy and content as I am, pictures like "Shot to the Head" don't enter your imagination.  However, I am considering that I might suffer from PTSD, due to emotional abuse in my childhood, and the violence of that time, its horrid memories, and memories of years of anguish over having a mental illness, still effect me.  I sometimes get so angry at people and the past in idle moments.  I am still a very unsettled soul.  Recently I remarked to my husband "I am content, yet I am tormented."  So who knows what rabbit I will pull out of a hat when I draw and plan a painting.  It might very well be a bloodied rabbit.

Always a driving factor in this painting's composition was the shot to the head.  It is the first thing you notice.  The woman standing on the ground in the black wrap has a tiny bullet hole in her smooth, white forehead, and blood splatter coming out of the back of her head.  The red blood was intended to pop against a light blue sky and to be an emotionally dark counterpoint to the beauty and elegance of the rest of the picture.  I think the garland made up of leaves and flowers is quite pretty, and the clothing the women wear is high fashion, inspired from pictures of models taken mid 20th Century.  So while there is admittedly blood and gore, the painting otherwise is very static and still.  It is a poised and silent, a one thousandth split second frozen image of an event.
And then there is the story of the piece of black string.  It is gathered in a ball in the lower left hand.  But unstrung, the black string winds its way around the trunk of the tree, makes it's way down the tree branch, drops to suspend the wooden plank that the woman in the green suit stands on, and then ties around the cat, lifting him up under his armpits.

The title "Shot to the Head" was intended to be more than just a literal description.  It describes what this picture does to the viewer.  It gives the mind a little jolt.  It dazzles the eye.  It shocks.  It challenges.  

I am so much happier with the quality of my artwork nowadays.  I don't care much that it looks crazy.  For a while there I was searching the internet with the google words "schizoprhenic art" and trying to find someone who painted like me.  I wanted to find my tribe.  But what I'm making doesn't look much like anyone else.  I guess this should make me feel happy. 

The first eye that I try to dazzle, excite and please is my own eye. 

Everyone makes very personal art.  Even if its just a vase of flowers.  You make that type of trite picture because you think it beautiful.

My idea of beautiful happens to have a lot of color, a lot of emotion, and the "zoom" quality. 

My art makes your eye "zoom" around the picture.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Tea Time Drawing

This is a very complex drawing.  Click on the image to enlarge.  It is a plan for an oil painting measuring 22"x28".  The largest size I can do which will fit on my table top easel.

The drawing was created in two steps.  First I did a half size image measuring 11x14 so that I could get the basic ideas down - where the shapes went in relation to one another, how they filled the rectangle.  The first idea I had for this painting was a naked lady serving as a table.  On her stomach was a tea pot and cup and saucer.  One hand supported her, the other hand is up in the air holding my version of a candelabra.  My candelabra has a central image, a little drama going on between the candles and their crystal droppings.  There is a tiny naked lady, slightly bent, vomiting water.   Water flows in a stream from her lips like a classical fountain.  She stands in a pool of water that is cupped in the center of the candelabra.  When the colors are added the pale blue of the water, with ripples, will be I hope define the watery element.

In my small starter drawing I established first the human table and the figure in the chair.  It mattered to me that the seated woman be clothed, as to contrast the nakedness of the table, and I picked some clothing details from a Vogue magazine advertizement.  The shoes I had to go online and look for on the designer's website.  This idea of having pants under a skirt is picked up this Fall season by several designers.  The skirt pattern is not based out of anything in Vogue or by any contemporary designer.  As it happened while I was creating the drawing (a process that took two to three weeks of working about five and a half hours every day) I watched an old black and white movie.  It was Anna Karenina, staring Greta Garbo in the lead role.  The movie, based on Tolstoy's classic novel, takes place in Russia before the revolution and the over throw of the Czars.  So Garbo was 19th century aristocracy and she wore beautiful full length gowns.  The ribbon and lace pattern comes from one of Garbo's gowns.

It was fun planning the chair the clothed woman is seated in.  I have a book of animal drawings, and I looked for animals that were all a little bit different in their snouts.   The chair will be upholstered in buttons and bulging fabric, probably a light cream color (the swirling background will be deep blues and greens) and the animal heads will carry with them all this cream color, as if they were upholstered too and created out of fabric - natural extensions of the chair.  They may have subtle nuances of color, but definitely the elephant will be cream instead of his natural grey color, and so forth.  The lightest elements of the painting should be the chair, the naked lady table, and the candelabra. 

Where there will be the brightest pop of color is among the flowers covering the floor.  I said to my husband that the simplest thing to draw was the naked woman's breasts, I only had to do them over twice. It is funny they were so simple, yet so essential, - when the final painting is first viewed I think the eye will land immediately on those breasts!   But for the rest, well, I went through three of those erasers that you stick on the end of a pencil.  I drew, erased, and redrew incessantly.  Just the arc of the skirt was considered by millimeters.  For this drawing it seems I have drawn arc after arc.

The trick to drawing the foliage on the floor was variety.  There is some repetition, but I wanted large blooms and small blooms but above all variety in shape.  Nature is a freak in how she invents, I wanted freakishness.  A reoccurring trick was to alter the direction that the tips of the blooms faced.  The floor is not a place where all natural things aspire up toward the sun.  The stalks of the blooms may start by growing upward but there is the final tilt of the bloom, and I hope the eye is drawn back and forth - my aim is to dazzle and overwhelm the viewer's eye. 

In some simple words I can sum up this drawing.  Pattern.  Energy.  Life.  Pathos.  Beauty.

This drawing could not have been created on a higher dose of antipsychotic medication.  Before I could only work two hours, even only an hour, before exhaustion numbed my mind.  To my perception now, what I did before, was pretty simple.  I made simple because I was simple.  Drawing requires you to give it your all and invent creatively on a scale that is but pale comparison to the manual labor of putting oil paint on a canvas.  The pencil moves quickly, the brush loaded with pigment moves slowly.   Now on a low dose of medication I can work an average of five to six hours.  Not only can I attempt more complexity, but I think the ideas flow quicker to me.  I have drawn flowers to trim the bottom of a painting before, but never have I attempted such strange and diverse shapes nor have I been capable of picking up and adapting concept of form from source material in botany books.  In short - what I attempted before on a lot of medication is impoverished in comparison to the complexity I am game to translate now.  Lower the medication and I grow bold.  It feels like I suddenly added IQ points to my brain.

At the height of my dose I was on 200 mg Geodone, now I rest comfortably at 80mg Geodone.  Each time I stepped down my dose, by either 40 or more recently 20 mg, I experienced withdrawal.  It would have been foolish to immediately assume that this was some natural illness suddenly making its appearance on lower medication.  I have been warned in books that the grip of antipsychotic medication is so insidious that coming off of it is ripe with peril.  The last time I went from 100mg to 80 mg was HORRIBLE.  For several days, right before I was due to take my evening dose (when most of the med was gone from my system) I experienced extreme dizziness and the unpleasant sensation that my mind was filled with cotton.  Thoughts would not form.  I told my husband I had Alzheimer's.  Also, I had problems with sudden surges of irritability and anger, lasting usually about two hours.  This made me hard to live with as I found that nothing that my husband said pleased me, and everything seemed to incur my wrath.  I quickly learned as marriage tensions flared to bite my tongue and say nothing when I was displeased.  Now I am peaceful, happy, and my normal self, (and the marriage is good) but it was all rocky for about ten days.

No symptoms of mental illness have made any appearance.  I have no depression, no delusions, no strange fancies, (unless you call my artwork a strange fancy, you are granted permission) no sadness or feelings of worthlessness, no suicidality, no paranoia, - only the flow and ebb of my days where I work in the mornings until I am exhausted and then I can do little physical activity for several hours.  I work, rest, and then enjoy some form of quiet play most days.  What is unpleasant is how I have the urge to overextend myself, and consequence is exhaustion, not of the body, but of the mind.  Physically I'm effected because my mental fatigue is so great that I don't have much will to move about.  So after work I lie in bed and watch a movie.  Sometime in my past a doctor told me that antipsychotic medication would aid concentration and sharpen my wits but as I have learned THIS IS NOT TRUE.  I have come to the conclusion that at the age of 19 I suffered a nervous breakdown where I had delusions and mania, but in the decades after (I am now 44) the greatest and lasting change to my brain was a reduction in my ability to concentrate. When I focus I focus intently, but the concentration does not last as long as it did before my nervous breakdown.

The question in my mind is how low can I go on my medication before either one of two things happen.  The first is that mental illness symptoms reappear.  At such a point I would immediately go back up on my medication to where I had been stable before.  (I consider myself stable at 80mg).  Is there a hiding, lurking mental illness masked and corrected by 80mg of Geodone?  Am I a schizophrenic monster merely being held in check by a low dose of medication?

The second thing I wonder about is my concentration and level of energy.  If I lower my medication and I LOSE the ability to concentrate for five and half hours then I would go back up on my medication.  I LOVE TO WORK AT MAKING ART.  EVERY DAY.  I HATE DISABILITY.  If I lower my medication and negative symptoms of schizophrenia appear or I couldn't work as long (some kind of unhinging of concentration) then probably I would go back up on my dose.

I have an appointment with my medication nurse in mid September.  She was very reluctant to lower my medication before, but I hope to persuade her to lower me more to 60 mg. I am, as she observed in our last visit, competent, and with no current complaints in life, why not try?  I read a statistic on another schizoprhenic's blog that 80% of schizoprhenic's relapse within two years if they stop their medication.  That left 20% who successfully went off of medication.  Could I be one of those 20%?

I greatly enjoy life and making the Tea Time drawing was a blast.  It was fun, it was hard obsessive work, but it gave each day purpose and meaning to an extent that I have rarely experienced before.

Now I can't wait to have the drawing copied onto thin paper and transfer it to its waiting canvas.  Then the paint!  O Lord, how it will sing with color!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Lower Med, Higher Global Functioning

Two weeks ago I lowered my Geodone dose from 120, which is minimum therapeutic dose, to 100mg.  This is a tiny decrease.  However, my medication nurse seemed to think that going under 120mg would have a drastic effect.  She implied that there would be major changes, as the drug worked differently under minimum threshold.

She's right.

Much is different.

I am now painting twice a day.  I paint, as usual, until I am tired and can't concentrate. On maximum dose of Geodone (200mg) this was a paltry two hours and then I suffered.  I mean I suffered agony.  My head felt psychic pain from being overworked, overused, and stretched to its utmost limit.  Then I couldn't paint again during that day, I was finished as far as doing anything with art was concerned.

So high medication, great disability.

Lower medication, much less disability.  Now during the morning I typically paint for three to three and a half hours and then I don't suffer.  I am merely tired.  None of this mental "pain" crap after thinking too much. 

On the medication dose I'm at currently I paint early in the morning and then I do something else.  I take a shower.  I walk to the coffee house.  I go grocery shopping.

This is so new to me.  I believed, for years, that after I finished creative work I had to lie in bed with no stimulation what-so-ever, no music, no tv, no phone, no books, no movement.  Just shut eyes.

I find now that this type of "down time" results in BOREDOM.

Then, as of late, in the early afternoon I'm ready for a second session of painting.  I'm not fresh like early in the morning, and I tend to want to do simple stuff, but I definitely have it in me to create again.

There have been absolutely no psychiatric symptoms of a mental illness on 100mg of Geodone.  No depression, no anxiety, no paranoia, and no delusions.  No funny thoughts that seem weird.  No strange conversational threads.  And no sadness.  The only thing that differentiates me from a non mentally ill person is that I grow tired easily and need to rest sporadically though out the day.  But really, there is nothing to my perception that is schizophrenic or could be diagnosed as schizophrenic in nature.  I'm a bit of a recluse, but I'm not exhibiting signs of being a mentally ill person.

I do notice that I have less desire to socialize and more desire to paint.  Painting never bores me.  And I'm never lonely painting, even though it is a most isolated activity.

And its too soon to tell, but I think my skill at painting has increased.  I just seem to be more sophisticated with the paint.  It could be the accumulation of years of painting.  Or it could be that my ability to make complex decisions has improved.  But I'm certain that I'm very very happy with the results of my creative effort.  I tickle myself when I see what is being created on the canvass.

I'm going to stay at this level of Geodone for three months.  Then, another 20 mg decrease.  I'm operating under the premise of the book "Anatomy of an Epidemic" that states that antipsychotic medication cause brain chemical imbalances.  Because the antipsychotic has altered the structure of my brain it takes time for healing to occur or else there will be psychotic like symptoms and relapse.  The book suggests that being taken off antipsychotic medications quickly does not reveal an illness, it causes an illness. 

I had the God damn presence of mind to stay at 120 mg Geodone for a fucking 6 months.  At the end of this six month period my mind was still changing, becoming stronger - and I had the first experiences of working on art twice a day rather than just once in the morning.  I felt myself healing, becoming a stronger more energetic and assertive person.  A happier person.

My mom says I've got to change the voice mail on my telephone.  It was made when I was heavily medicated.  She says I sound now like a completely different person.  But I don't know how to change voice mail.

I know I had a nervous breakdown when I was 19 and my brain dramatically changed.

But now I'm 44.  I've got a different brain then the one that had the nervous breakdown.  Who says that once you are diagnosed schizophrenic, you are going to be schizophrenic for life?  Is it a permanent condition?

Anatomy of an Epidemic makes one clear point.  As long as you are on antipsychotic medication you will be mentally ill and probably deteriorate.  Over the decades your frontal lobes will shrink.  The symptoms of your illness will continue and may likely intensify.  The medication, in many ways is toxic.  It chemically alters the brain and prevents healing from the mental illness from occurring.

If I have to stay at 100 mg that's fine with me.  Oh, there was one side effect from lowering my dose by 20 mg.  On day two on the lower dose, in the afternoon, I suffered an intense headache followed by scary dizziness.  I couldn't stand, had to lie down.  When I took my evening dose of Geodone the dizziness went away.  And its never returned.

But as long as I feel fit as a fiddle and happy and normal I'm going to slowly, slowly, continue decreasing my antipsychotic medication.

Oh, I forgot to mention.  I feel calmer on 100 mg than I did on 120 mg.

Feeling calm is the most wonderful, luscious feeling in the world.

I love mental health!

Saturday, June 9, 2012

New Drawing: Pregnant Woman and Peacock

This is a drawing I just finished today.  It measures 12"x16".  Click on the image and you can see it enlarged.  I like the color, but I'm a little baffled as to what it all means.  I suppose its just meant to be decorative.  Would prefer that it told a story.

I know that when I started drawing it I was going through an intense, stressful series of days.  The painting I had been working on had a lot of repetitive detail and I was horribly bored of doing the same colors in the same pattern again and again.  I know that in the long run the detail is good for the overall look of the painting, (swirls in the sky, think Van Gogh's Starry Night on overdrive, during the daytime, a hundred light blue, purple and yellow swirls) so I was dying to be creative (instead of a craftsperson), and then wham, my home life seemed to head off in a new direction.  I stopped for about a week making art of any sort.  I was stunned.  Events smoothed out, but I hoped that starting a new drawing would be a means to combat stress.  The idea was that I find a new thing to obsess about and throw myself into.  The drawing was a challenge that was personal and private to contradict the feeling that my life was big and fast moving and tumbling out of control.  Control what you can.  At the precise moment you feel powerless.

I was pretty lost for subject matter after I decided I would do an oil pastel drawing.  My mind was giving me images of people with blown off heads, a lot of blood.  Basic scenes of death and carnage.  In fact, in a discarded drawing, I thought I was on the right path making a picture of two monsters tearing off a woman's dress.  Monsters raping a woman.  I felt really tormented and I wanted the characters in my drawing to be tormented as well.

So after a false start, I decided to go with practically all human.  I knew I wanted the bodies stacked, compressed, charred, with contorted limbs.  As it turned out the only figure that really looks upset is the middle male, he has the sort of "woe is me" look to him.  My husband thinks the figure on top is sinister, he calls it a vampire ready to pounce and suck blood.  In no way do I interpret that figure the way my husband does.  The color and the pose were done for artistic purposes.  Don't know where the peacock came from, but it does add something pretty in terms of pattern and I know it also functions as an arc that pulls the picture away from the stack of horizontal bodies.

Added last the pregnancy of the bottom woman.  She had a small stomach in the initial drawing, and I guess as a happy sign of hope, I enlarged the stomach and added the baby.  I find pictures of pregnant women particularly warming.  Life was hard, but it was wonderful as well.  Toyed with the idea that the fetus would be a monster, but rejected this notion. Done that before in early artwork.

On the first layer of color all the figures had nude flesh.  I decided this was too boring.  The hardest part of the artwork to correct from the underdrawing was the man in the middle.  I had settled in my mind that the top person would be the darkest, but it took me a bit to reason out that orange and green would be the main theme on the man in the middle.  At that point I also lightened up the pregnant woman with simple white, while leaving a lot of the color in her contour.

In my present state of mind I absolutely hate doing a background that is simple, without repeating pattern.  I like layering pattern on top of pattern.  What was weird about this drawing is the the flaw of its simplicity was present from the beginning.  The night before I started the drawing I had been crying (from stress) and my husband had strongly suggested that my despair seemed disproportionate, or out of control, and that I take a trilifon.  Trilifon in 2mg tablets is the old fashioned anti-psychotic medication I can take that hits me like a hammer over the head.  I only take them in crisis, and they start to work after about 30 minutes.  Haven't had to take a trilifon in well over two years, just been doing really well.

So I take the Trilifon and my tears dry up.  The next morning I feel drugged.  But it was the morning I've planned to start the drawing!  And the entire composition was created in a two hour time period at one go!  This rarely happens.  Drawings take days to compose, the elements creep out my unconscious mind bit by bit and I don't see where things are headed until the whole is almost done.  So I don't trust the quality of a drawing that is composed so swiftly.  Instead of thinking, "my, how I've grown as an artist" instead I think, "oooh, the drugs stifled my creativity and if it came out fast, it came out diluted and boring".

My negative attitude about an artwork being weak because it happened too easily brings to mind another artwork by an artist I can't name that I saw in an art magazine at the library.  Been going out in the afternoons, after an isolated morning of doing artwork, wanting to be around people, and trying to enhance my art education.  I think you can learn by looking, looking, looking at art.  Our library subscribes to three art magazines.  Galleries take out ads for their current exhibitions, and guess what, they usually buy a full page reproduction of the best piece of their featured artist.  I simply flip the pages and go from one contemporary art work to the next.  Occasionally I read the articles. But most of the education comes from looking at images and thinking about them.  The thinking doesn't go anywhere, its mostly just absorption. And the occasional "shit, he's so fantastic. Out of my league."

There was an article on this artist who recently committed suicide.  I would guess his age was late 50's or mid 60's.  He was obviously really smart and his work tended toward the conceptual.  He had been collected by museums and was working really hard (and I guess drinking hard too, and struggling with depression) before his death.  With the article was a photograph of a black and white wooden birdhouse he made.  The title of his artwork was "Catholic Birdhouse".  Typical birdhouses have a hole in the middle and a peg sticking out for the bird to perch on.  This birdhouse looked typical, but it had two holes, and two pegs.  The bottom hole was large and printed underneath was the text "the easy road".  The top hole was a lot smaller than the bottom hole and was ringed by smears, as though the bird preferred it but had to really squeeze to make it through, and in the process, had lost some feathers, flesh and blood.  The text under the small hole said "the hard road".

Such a simple piece but so evocative.  It said that we wish to enter home (due to the title home can be construed as the Kingdom of God) through loss and suffering - this is "the hard road".  Of course the irony is that either hole, large or small, would have brought you to the same house, the same place of rest and safety, and there was no need for the bird to take "the hard road".  He seemed to freely choose it.  Maybe because of his Catholic upbringing.

Simple art that makes you think.  I said to my husband when my drawing neared completion "is it creative, is it different?"  And he said to me, "have you ever seen anything like it?"  And I thought and then said no.  The drawing of the figures was easy, but over the course of several weeks I have really struggled with the colors.  So by the end, there was some tough finagling to bring this drawing to its conclusion.  I despaired because I thought the road was too easy, thus mistrusting it, but it turned out to have its challenges.  And having some challenges, I was satisfied.

Now I return to painting my God damn sky with one hundred swirls. I anticipate that when I finish just the sky I'll be so sick of painting that I'll do another drawing.

Long live the creative challenge.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Scream Defended

There are four versions of "The Scream" by Edvard Munch as well as a lithograph.  Two versions were painted and two were done in pastel all between the years of 1893 to 1910.  Two of the paintings and one pastel drawing are owned by Norwegian museums.

Recently the only version in private hands came up for auction at Sotheby's.  There are several detail that make this version very appealing to collectors.  According to Sotheby's it is the most colorful of all created.  And as importantly, it is the only version that is preserved in its original frame.  This frame, designed by Munch, has on it a poem he wrote about the experience which gave him the idea for the image.

"I was walking along a path with two friends - the sun was setting - suddenly the sky turned blood red - I paused, feeling exhausted, and leaned on the fence - there was blood and tongues of fire above the blue-black fjord and the city.
"My friends walked on, and I stood there trembling with anxiety - and I sensed an infinite scream passing through nature."

This version of "The Scream" sold for 119.9 million dollars, and if prices are adjusted for inflation, it makes it the eighth most expensive work of art ever sold.

There is no doubt in my mind that this work of art is an expression of inner torment.  Inner torment, or any emotional state is not so easy to express in a work of art.  You can feel an emotion strongly, but to get that emotion symbolized in an image so that others feel what you are feeling is a difficult feat of communication.  My father says that that this work of art is so disturbing that if you took your thumb and placed it over the screaming figure that the landscape alone would communicate anxiety.  My father paints landscapes, and so he would recognize a landscape that held in it something supremely unique.   This is the landscape of Munch's memory, perhaps distorted by his anxiety, definitely re-created to communicate his mood.  The red of the sky get redder because of its juxtaposition against the blue of the sea.  And it is not red that we have reflected in the sea but emptiness, a bone color that divides and surrounds the undulating red waves in the sky.

 I see compositionally that the diagonal line of the hand railing teleports the background red sky directly into frontal space.  The sky, the viewer, and the screaming figure are all linked by the hand railing.  And I think that any time you have such a bold diagonal running through the picture frame it runs the unnerving risk of dividing the image.  And an image usually such divided creates psychic disturbance because we want harmony and balance in the picture, and this is usually achieved by interrelatedness and repetition.  One spot here is like the other spot there.  That promise of continuity soothes our awareness.  As we are told by Abraham Lincoln that "a house divided against itself cannot not stand", an image with a bold dividing line threatens to scatter the parts.  In this particular image it is the overreaching sky that is not interrupted but instead flows from edge to edge that saves us from the severity of  the hand rail projected almost straight at us.  And of course theatrically what do we have at the end of the hand rail, as if it were the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow or the essence to anchor and mend the division of parts, - is a little man screaming.  There is a slight reference to death in his countenance - he has no hair- as if his skull were exposed directly by the knob of bone beneath, skin stripped away.  Blue lips echo the shape of his head. And the hands are clasped to either side of the face, as if, in body language the screaming man is saying "all this is too much for me, I'm overwhelmed,  I withdraw, I try to save the parts of me that have not been stripped away by my experience."

As an artist I also notice that that the image isn't precious.  And what I mean by that is that it has been done swiftly and emphatically without a slow and methodical process and too much attention to minute detail.  Perhaps there were plans and rough drafts - I wouldn't be surprised - but the final product deals in essences and bold simplicity.  This pastel could have been drawn in a day.  I find it fascinating that the artist repeated the same image in different mediums during a seventeen year span of time.  It is like being haunted by the exact same re-occurring dream.  This dream is trying to express something vital to the soul.

In the analysis I read about the sale of this work, is that the price went so high because the image has become an icon in our culture.  Mention to most intelligent people the name of the artwork and in their head they see a vision of what Munch did.  It has been repeated and repeated on mugs, tee-shirts and referenced by other artist's artwork.  Does it stick in our minds because it is repeated by popular culture or is the repetition an homage to a fundamental fact that at one time or another we have all felt like the little screaming man in the artwork?  We identify because locked in us all is that terrible place of an inner scream.  And the artwork validates for us our experience, it says, humanity is united in the extremes that we must submit to.  Some of us submit and endure, others go under and self-destruct.

Not all experts in the art world have good things to say about"The Scream". 

Rachel Campbell-Johnston, The Times's chief art critic, is not a fan. The Scream's popularity, she believes, derives from a tendency to regard artforms prefixed with adjectives like "edgy", "dark" and "disturbing" as somehow superior to those which are light and joyful.  Indeed, she draws an analogy with a teenager listening to overwrought, depressing music in their bedroom, before learning as they grow older to appreciate a songwriter like Bob Dylan who deals with subtler, more complex emotions.
"The Scream is almost childish in its directness," she says. "That's why you see it in so many university halls of residence. What you get out of that painting is not something that deepens over time.
"It appeals to an immature taste. As you get older you want something different - art that transforms the everyday rather than goes to the extremes of human emotion."

But I have to disagree with Rachel Campbell-Johnston.  Some people - the strong ones - have no fears of the extremes of human emotion.  Me, being schizophrenic, I have no choice sometimes but to live with crippling dark emotional states.  I live with them, let them wash over me, and in time, have even an edge with them because they are familiar and recognized as just me being me.  Recovery from schizophrenia has evolved from a state of wanting to do battle with darkness (kill the sickness) to acceptance of darkness as something that ultimately won't harm me (there is no sickness, just altered states of being).  In order to survive to maturity with this illness I had to absorb it.  Yes, at times, there is a little man screaming inside of me.  But I know that given a bit of time he will stop screaming and other little men will step into his place.  There is the one that basks in simple sunshine, the one that is addicted to bright colors in art, the one that delights in giving and receiving love.  

I will tell you what I think.  If you are sensitive to pain, this is good, because you will be sensitive to the absence of pain.  If you know deep sadness, you are capable of experiencing profound joy.  There is a spectrum to the emotions and a life lived with passion does not deny the currents that flow under our exterior, rather, these currents are identified, examined, and absorbed then disbanded in an ever flowing circle.  I think "The Scream" is embraced by the masses not because the masses are immature, but because most people feel secret kinship with its message.  We move on as adults to a place, hopefully, where adversity and pain does not cut us quite so deeply, but you would be a fool to think this is merely because we deny or suppress or (God forbid), never have anymore the negative experiences.  We simply handle unhappiness differently from when we were young.   Artworks that express only subtly and beauty are appreciated but so is the crude, the energetic, the shocking in art.  Ideally as the individual matures he or she broadens, strengthened, and is still delighted by what is new and different.

Sometimes we want warmth, sometimes we need a pin prick.

If you fear or scorn authenticity in all its wild audacious variety  (and "The Scream" is above all about authentic human emotion) then some part of you is being sorely suppressed.  To your detriment.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Feeling Good, Feeling Crazy

I brought my drawing to the framers in town and they scratched "The Gift".  The man's thigh has a green border, the scratch was white through the green and then it moved into the middle of the flesh.  I told the framer than when I had brought the drawing in the thigh of the man had been smooth.  Now it was not.  The framer was very quiet.  Nervous I think.  Waiting for me to blow up like a volcano.  But I said I could fix it.  I didn't know if it would be hard or easy, but it was quite easy.  The framer's are really lucky that they damaged a piece that had been brought in by the artist that created it, and of course, that it was in a medium that could be fixed.  I brought back the drawing yesterday and immediately they put it in its frame.  It now looks really, really good.  It must be the framer's worst nightmare that they damage a customer's art.  Like lawsuit nightmare.  Plus, everyone in town says that they are expensive but that they do such a good job that they are worth it.  So they have a reputation to uphold.  The framer said that he was going to have to review the process by which artworks are handled.  And they gave me a $20 gift certificate.

My worst nightmare is getting a flat tire.  Which I did.  I was parking the car in front of my therapist's office and hit the curb.  The curb ripped the tire.  I had AAA.  So by the end of my therapy appointment a man had come and put on the spare.  They said they would be about an hour, which was perfect, I could have my therapy  while I waited.  After I had called AAA my therapist asked me how I was doing.  Of course I was highly nervous, after all my worst nightmare had just happened and a part of me wanted to be silly and cry, but I said reflexively that I was good.  He made much of this answer.  Apparently there have been lots of days in the past when I walked into my therapists a mess and could not, even offhandedly, say I was good.  He said that healing had occurred.  I think I just like life more on less meds.

My husband said that the number one difference in his eyes between me on this dose of medication and a much higher dose is that now I never say "I want to die".  Apparently this was an expression he said I would use (theatrically?) several times a week.  The worst that its ever gotten recently was the night before a dentist appointment when I said I couldn't see the future.  I didn't want to die but I felt like my life was going to end.  I was just really scared.  Because of the types of medications I take my dentist won't give me normal Novocaine.  She uses an alternate that numbs, but not as deeply.  I need multiple shots during the procedure, and she only knows to give me more AFTER I've cringed from pain. And too there is a limit of how much she can give.  So going to the dentist is a major source of anxiety.

I feel like I want to say to my therapist, "fix me, I'm too neurotic".  I worry so much.  I anticipate little things that are supposed to happen tomorrow with strong feelings of fear.  And usually its all for nothing, like with the flat tire.  Things go well.  Nighttime, after a busy day, is really bad.  I sometimes before bed tell my husband I feel crazy.  But there is nothing crazy about me other than that I'm super stressed and usually worried about something.  No psychosis. No suicidal thinking.  A perfect cure for the crazies is lying in bed with my head on my husband's stomach.  He strokes my hair or my back.  His touch soothes.  I feel safe.  I feel loved.

My husband repeated to me a scene from a play he saw ten years ago.  It was preformed at the psycho-social clubhouse where we first met.  The actors all had mental illness and had created the sketches that they performed themselves.  This sketch was about a guy who had gone off his meds.  He was lying on a couch.  He friend comes to visit and asks how he's doing.  "I'm feeling really creative" he replies.  "What did you create?" asks the friend.  "Well, nothing yet but I know something is coming because my thoughts are really good and really creative."  He friend says, well, why don't you come out with me and we'll do something.  "No" says the guy on the couch, "I don't feel like doing anything.  I'm just going to lay here."

The point of the sketch was that subjectively off meds a schizophrenic might feel good, and more creative, but objectively they have lost motivation, get little done, and live an inferior quality of life.

I ask my husband again and again if I seem normal.  And he says that I act normal.  But I swear, there are times when I feel as mad as a hatter.  Its all internal.  The worst that happens is I crawl into bed or tear up and complain.

Creatively I don't know how the med change has affected me, but I seem to have lost a little motivation.  Not much, but it is the negative symptoms.  Lack of will power.  Some household chores seem harder now to accomplish.  But I am happier, just, a little less effective. 

One big change on the lower dose of meds is that I don't sleep as much.  I sleep 6 to 8 hours a night rather than 10 to 12 hours.  This means that my days are longer and I have much more free time.  The amount that I can concentrate and work on art is about the same, three hours.  So I have a lot of extra time where I'm all alone wondering what to do, usually because my husband works the day and then an hour and a half overtime.  I feel more lonely on less meds. I really have no friends in town, other than some little old ladies from church.  How I would love an artist friend.

So I've started going downtown in the afternoons, (downtown is two blocks from my house) after making art and then some rest, and bringing a book to a coffeehouse.  I have a great library of art books.  I need to get out and be with people.  It kinda sucks that I'm not actually having a conversation with anyone, but it is some food for the soul just to be in human company.  I drink coffee and look at my art book.  Sneak peeks at people.  Its not an exciting life, but I've designed all my theatrics to center around art creation.  Isolation, craziness, and art.  And my husband and my animals.  My siblings and parents on the distant outside circles of my peculiar, mentally ill life.  I don't know if it is heaven or hell.  Sometimes it feels like one, sometimes like the other.  And it can flip flop in the course of three hours.

Since I made that last drawing I've been rather dry creatively.  It seems it took a lot out of me.  I've tried to start another drawing but all I can see is the imagery of what I've just completed.  Its like it is burned into my mind.  And I worry that I can't do better, or at least, equal.  It is really hard to give the drawing away, especially since I don't know if it will be liked or appreciated.  I want to keep it.  I have a spot in my bedroom where I can hang it.  So I think I should hurry up and send it away before I lose the battle to be generous.  Just this morning I was wondering if Van Gogh's famous painting of his doctor who treated him at the insane asylum was given to the doctor as a gift.  I was betting that Van Gogh didn't give it away freely, that he was hoping to sell it.  Maybe, I wondered, if he had given art away as gifts he would not have been lead down the path to despair and shot himself.  I think it mattered to him greatly that nobody in Paris was buying his art.  His art was on display, his brother was an art dealer.  Is there a lesson, that if you give work away when you can't sell it your chances of survival in this life are better?

I like to take myself seriously.  But I can see the merit in acting like a fool.  I think too much of my pain in life is a result of taking myself too seriously.         

Friday, April 20, 2012

"The Gift" Drawing

An hour after I finished this drawing I broke down crying.  I just didn't know what to make of it.  Was it good or was it bad?  I had been so obsessed during its creation, and when it was over I felt lost and directionless.  From start to finish it took a little under a month to create.

The colors were added with oil pastels, underneath is the preliminary pencil drawing.  When I drew with the pencil  I thought that I had left room for it to be eventually matted but unfortunately when it came time to add the colors I added detail right up to the edges of the paper.  So when I get it framed I can't use a mat.  Am going to frame this one because it is a gift.  I am sending it to someone I don't know well and I figured if I framed it there would be less of a chance of it getting lost or torn or simply discarded.  It is an ego thing getting it framed - I value it so I want to take good care of it.  Maybe this will help someone else take good care of it too.

I had no visions in my head of what this picture would look like when I began except for one seed element.  I knew I wanted to start with the drawing of a bound bird.  The image of a bird with straps across its wings, preventing it from flight, is an old image that I've used in two other works of art made years ago.  However, never before have I put quite so many straps of bondage on the bird, nor have I ever included a lock and key.

Once the bird was drawn I thought to put behind it a stone wall and a girl sitting on the stone wall.  I pictured her in a pretty dress printed with cherries, and in her hands she held a heart.  As I drew this girl I thought that she was an evil creature who had torn the heart out of the chest of a man below her.  I imagined the man wiggling and flailing in agony on grass.  But when I drew him he had a languid, gracious pose.  Suddenly the meaning of the picture changed, the woman was no longer evil, and the man was no longer in pain.  There was a transfer of the heart taking place, but whether the horse headed man was offering it up to the woman or whether the woman was giving to the horse headed man something vital that he lacked was unclear.  However, in either interpretation, whether or not the heart is coming out of a body or going into a body it is most certainly a precious gift.  That is where the title comes from.  It just is coincidence that "The gift" is actually a gift.

The last element to draw was the cat holding the gun.  Guns in my art are reoccurring objects. Usually I find that the person or animal holding the gun is pointing it at something beautiful and good, like a unicorn or mermaid or angel.  I suppose I feel that it adds an element of threat.  That a good thing has hanging over it the means of its termination and destruction.  Probably the cat won't shoot.  But he's demonic.

After I finished the drawing, had my cry, and was left with doubt and uncertainty I went for a walk with my husband and our dog.  I was feeling a little crazy and kept thinking about Degas pastel drawings of ballerinas.  All those colors.  I kept thinking to myself, why can't I draw like Degas?  And while I wanted to be Degas, my head traveled even further and thought, why can't I draw like Michelangelo?  Or Leonardo Di Vinci?  I wanted to be big, bigger than life, huge, on top of a mountain.  But what I really felt was small and insignificant. Why so much dissatisfaction in the very hour when I should feel accomplished?   I said to my husband that the pain was very old, going back to high school, going back to elementary school.  I simply have a hard time accepting what is me, and this drawing is very much in my own, idiosyncratic style.  I am a primitive, outsider artist.  And schizophrenic.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Nick Blinko's Art

Nick Blinko is an outsider artist currently represented by the Henry Boxer Gallery in England. This is what their site has to say about him;

"In the case of British artist Nick Blinko (b.1961), who has in the past been hospitalised, the need to make pictures is stronger than the desire for the psychic 'stability' brought by therapeutic drugs which adversely affects his ability to work. His images are constructed of microscopically detailed elements, sometimes consisting of literally hundreds of interconnecting figures and faces, which he draws without the aid of magnifying lenses and which contain an iconography that places him in the company of the likes of Bosch, Bruegel and the late Goya. These pictures produced in periods when he was not taking medication bring no respite from the psychic torment and delusions from which he suffers. In order to make art, Blinko risks total psychological exposure".

(Colin Rhodes . 'Outsider Art : Spontaneous Alternatives', Thames & Hudson)

On Wikipedia I learned that Nick Blinko is schizoaffective. I thought it interesting that he stops his medication in order to have more creativity. The rewards in terms of notability for making his type of art are enormous. The gallery that represents him is premier. His work is prized as typical of outsider artwork, one of the few mentally ill people who make art in the "style" of obsessive, detail orientated artwork like the artwork of schizophrenics who were hospitalized before the invention of drug therapy. Blinko is in museum collections. Most notably The Collection de l'Art Brut, Lausanne and The Outsider Collection and Archive, London.

I recently had a letter from a woman studying to be an art therapist. One of her questions to me was did my artwork change from when I was less stable, to more stable? I replied that currently I was lowering my meds dose in order to be more creative, risking stability to gain a creative edge. Originally I lowered the dose for health reasons, but now, seeing how happy I am with my art, I have realized that for me a lower dose of medication means improved creativity. I also told her that I was more fragile, but stable, and that there was a difference between stability and fragility.

I didn't tell her this, but my therapist says I'm the best he's ever seen me. I may worry that I'm fragile, but this is not what he is perceiving during our visits. I'm starting to consider that anti-psychotic medication creates depression, or at the least, not wishing to use that popular medical term, dysphoria. I know that since I've lowered the dose significantly, I'm not crying at therapy sessions or arriving and saying that I'm worn out, distressed, or mentally fried. I don't complain anymore at sessions about the current shape I'm in - I'm not saying I feel crazy or express much anger over having this illness. I'm almost always happy and stable. At the worst, I'm a little spaced out but even this is more of an inner reflection and does not seem to manifest itself during conversation.

I don't think dysphoria is a popular or even noted side effect of antipsychotic medication. However, when I got out of a hospitalization in 1991 after being on heavy antipsychotic old school medication for two years, and being very depressed for two years, a Yale professor of psychology who I was seeing as a therapist suggested that my depression could have been enhanced by my medication. If the feeling of being medicated or doped up is so unpleasant that many go off of their medication, preferring to be med free, it might be that in the med free state they experience a lightening of affect. Not just buoyant from the lack of being mentally slowed down, or sedated, but having a legitimate lust for life that the medication extinguishes.

While I'm having no positive symptoms, my negative symptoms are the same or maybe worse. Its hard to know whether or not being "tired" and impeded was from being sedated on anti-psychotics or more currently, being over-stimulated and then bringing on negative symptoms. Nowadays, if I have a busy, activity filled day the next day it is much harder to find energy to get out of bed. There have been days recently when all I did was lie in bed and watch movies having no motivation or will power to do anything else. Sometimes there are moments when I'm so drained I can't even speak. For instance, I can't answer my husband when he asks me a question. This happened last Sunday after I spent two hours on a drawing. He wanted to know something but all I could do was mutely look at him. Knowing me, he just let things be without an answer. But then after an hour of just lying in bed, I got up and started to clean the house. So the negative symptom passed. Energy, will and drive returned. After being taxed, the brain rested and readjusted. Overall, I had a busy, fun filled day Sunday.

For the past several days I've been working on a drawing, intending to color it in with oil pastels. It is at the pencil line planning point and very detailed. I'm really happy with how it is going, only, I hope I have the skill to draw fine detail with the messy and blunt medium of oil pastel.

I felt the need to do something super creative, that's why I started the drawing. The process of painting is very slow and sometimes boring. My next task for the canvass that is on my easel is to paint bark on a tree. How dull. Gradual gradations of color is needed as the rounded tree trunk takes shape. One color would read a flat paper cut out tree trunk, no volume in space.

On a sad note, the pharmaceutical company that was going to fund the exhibition of my artwork has cancelled the project. Currently I'm waiting for Fed-Ex to return the artwork that I had to ship, to all places, Canada. There was a company in Canada that was going to create the physical layout of the art display. Or so I imagine. So my art will not be touring this next year with other works by schizophrenic artists, exhibiting at medical conferences. I have to say though, while the project was in its planning stages it was very exciting and I was emailing sometimes every day to a PhD coordinator in New York City. The hardest part wasn't writing about the artwork, or creating a bio, but oddly enough packaging the art for transit. I had to find picture boxes (went to three stores) and then try to physically wrap and fit everything so that it wouldn't get damaged. The grunt work was what I was least adapted to. My husband once said that he has seen me try a physical task I've never done for an hour, and then be on the verge of a nervous breakdown. So trying something new, if it's physical, is hardest on me. Using my mind to solve a problem, expressed through writing or art, now that is much easier.

Monday, March 19, 2012

What Matisse Said

I'm reading a book about Matisse. This image struck me. It is so busy. I'm currently working on a painting that is very busy too. Notice where he had to space the seated figure away from the background with black lines or blurred lines of paint - especially thick around the face and the hand. I'm wondering in my work if I'm going to have to use these same techniques of outlining so that my objects stand out from the busy background.

A schizophrenic man I've known for eight years recently criticized my artwork. He said I should study human anatomy and draw better "fingers and toes". In Matisse's figure the hands and feet are stiff and abstracted. I happen not to abstract as much as Matisse. But my artwork was mocked cruelly by the schizophrenic. I no longer talk to him. The author of my Matisse book noticed the nude girl's impossible straight back. The line her back makes is there in order to contrast with the swirling shapes surrounding her. This painting is complex in that along the floor, (including the woman's back) there are a lot of straight lines, and the straight lines are in contrast to the patterned curves of the wall paper, the fruit, the plant, and the curves of the flesh of the girl. A rug with straight lines and curves, a mirror with straight lines and curves, a girl with curves and a perfectly straight back.

Whomever wrote the book I read adored Matisse, the prose was not dry, it was very emotional. This is what he writes about Matisse's decision not to paint strings on a guitar. The guitar was in the hands of a very large woman in a blue dress.

"It would be to wrong Matisse to reproach him for not having painted strings on the guitar. It is a pointless remark if this is a painting which pays homage to silence, once which can be compared to the comment by the Renault car-workers who, when faced with the figures painted by Fernand Leger, asserted that 'hands like that could never even hold a hammer!' Of course one cannot play a guitar without strings? Shades of Leonardo da Vinci, souvenirs of the Renaissance, obsession with realism, what stupid judgements have been made in your name!"

I especially like the author's last sentence.

Today I'm boxing up four pieces of artwork to be sent to New York City. They will travel in exhibition over this next year and I should get them back in December. It took me three stores to find the boxes. The old man at UPS told me horror stories about how rough the transport conditions would be on a truck. He suggested that I reinforce the cardboard boxes with particle board, making them impossibly heavy. I was anxious, and am still anxious that I will get the work back in the pristine condition that it was sent out in. I had to ask myself, how attached am I to my art? So much labor went into these paintings. They will be insured for damage, but I rather that they come back intact than to get some money. And me, having a bought of low self-esteem, did not put satisfactory money value on them when I had the chance. I thought to myself, what would they sell at he local gallery down the street, where I am a nobody without any reputation. Not, what are they worth to me personally, dependent on that amount of effort that went into them.

In me is a bit of a war between worry and detachment. I don't find that I have a fierce attachment to life. I like life, and I like my paintings, but I can let both go when the time comes. My mother is looking into her final living arrangement, when she is very old. It is important to her to be near the finest hospital. Like, in the same city. To me this seems silly. A great deal of my family is obsessed with living long lives. I liked what my therapist said. He said you live this life and then you move on. I only wish for long life so I can make a lot of paintings. Then I'll move on. To what? I don't know.

Matisse wrote this in a letter to his dear friend, Andre Rouveyre when he was 83, about a year before his death.

"May the survival of my works of which you give me the assurance, actually happen, I wish it... I never think of it because having thrown the ball as far as I can, I cannot be sure whether it will fall to the ground or in the sea or over the precipices from where nothing returns."

There is first the sentiment of attachment, and then in practically the next breath, a letting go of control completely. I believed this was the most powerful quote in the Matisse book because it describes my situation now exactly.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Strawberry Music

Finally finished a happy painting. If you click on the image you can see it in larger form, and really see the detail.

Here we have a musical band, all in uniforms. Hats with orange stars (the drummer has a swirl on his hat), purple dotted shirts with rows of green diamonds, the black cummerbund with a red hip bow, and striped purple pants. The two horn players and the base player are all standing in a cart pulled by a horse. In the sky, in the middle of the sun, there is a flying pig. Across the landscape there are leafy, flowering strawberry vines loaded with gigantic fruit.

To my eyes this looks like straight folk art. But my husband says it looks more like outsider art. He senses something weird about it I guess. But I don't see anything weird in it, just harmless fun. Can I not recognize my own schizophrenia? I suppose not.

Because this painting is so detailed it took a long time to make, as usual. But I the final product is worth it. I really enjoyed using all the colors. It made the process of painting more difficult, this choosing of so many colors. You have to be really careful, unless its intentional, of mixing wet paint into wet paint. The grass final coat is blended yellow and green shades of color to make that wavy, blocky texture. Then in the smaller "distance" portion of the picture, where you have the small horse and the small strawberry vines, the grass is simple multi-color dots.

Usually I layered wet over dry. The base colors for the sky (two layers to achieve intense blues) and ground had to be separated from the figures and painted first, with the figures painted in after with white. Why white? I think I thought it was a better base to put color upon. And since I was working from an equally detailed drawing, I wanted all the "elements" put in their proper place - didn't trust myself to free style paint the drawing all over again. I really don't trust my drawing skills. The initial drawing seems to take so many erasures. So not a flower, not a hand, not much, is different in shape and size from what I originally planned. And at one time the sky, and the ground, all had ghostly shapes of white on them. Really, one can't get the intensity of the red strawberries unless one started with a white base.

The only edit I did from the initial drawing is the costumes on the band players were supposed to have red bow ties at their throats. Believe it or not this made the picture too busy! And it didn't work really since three of the five players are holding instruments up to their lips. Too many objects intersecting.

This piece was done on a little less medication than usual. I don't want to go medication free. I'm seeing my med nurse this Friday and I'm going to tell her that I'm happy on the dose I'm at. I don't see the point in going any lower. After twenty years of mental illness a part of me still holds out hope that I don't have a mental illness. I guess it's the irrational part. Its the part that ignores the hours I spend in bed, my difficulties in doing many ordinary things, and maybe, how strange my art looks. But of course to me it doesn't look strange, just busy and rich. I said to someone recently that when I look at most of my art I see poverty of thought, but I think that is low self esteem and not really what is present.

I've sent this image by email to my brother and sister, who both own some of my art that I am most proud of. They are my fans. Once, they got into a bidding war over a painting. My sister won the painting because she has more money. But I dread sending an image of "strawberry music" to my father. I fear he is going to be disappointed. Oh he'll be nice and supportive, but secretly disappointed. He once rented gallery space in an antique store that sold art in a rich town, and he invited his friend and my brother to try to sell their art in his space, but he never invited me. My brother once said to me that my father and step-mother look at my art and see in it sickness and disease. He told me to stop giving my best pieces to my father as gifts - he would never appreciate what he has. That was after my brother found one of my paintings lying face down on a concrete basement floor of my father's house. My brother stole it and returned it to me and then gave me his warning.

I took this photograph yesterday, after I did final touches, when the paint was still wet. I can't wait for the paint to dry so I can get it professionally framed and hang it in the kitchen. I've got a spot for it. I have a master plan where I make art for the next five years in secret, not showing it or selling it and then approach an art gallery in New York City and try to get them to represent me. Then I'll have shows of new work every five years. Happily this means living with my art in my house for a while. I'm certain that after looking at the same piece for several years I'll get sick of it and be mighty relieved when it goes off into the world to have its own adventures on strange walls, viewed by strange people.

The Ricco Maresca Gallery in NYC represents Ken Grimes, a schizophrenic artist that they have had in their stable of artists for a long time. On their website, if you go to his page, there is a new video the gallery commissioned to be shot of Ken. He sounds great. He is obviously on a new medication than from when I met him ten years ago because his emotions are more fluid and vibrant. When I met him he talked slowly and kinda woodenly. It was fun to see him in the video, and I learned a few things. It takes him a week to paint a painting, from start to finish. My God! It takes me much longer than that just to plan a painting. And I loved to see him in action, actually painting a painting. To most its nothing, but to an artist it is so much fun to see the work in action. And Ken juggles! And he's quiet good at playing pool. But the biggest surprise is at the end of the video. Through-out the video you hear classical piano music being played. Then there's a clip of Ken at the piano, playing the music! When he stops playing the music and sits back from the piano, the video is over. Very clever design of the overall architecture of the piece.

But what I really love is that the video shows that schizophrenia (and the word is never ever mentioned - this gallery does NOT promote Ken Grimes as being mentally ill, just different and obsessed by sending out a message, and you'll have to go the website to see what in particular message obsesses him), well, mental illness is only a tiny and obscure thing in his life, this man lives happily and successfully....................of course when he talks about his obsession he sounds uncomfortably like a lunatic to me, but truly, when I hear some conservative religious people talk about aspects of their religious beliefs they too sound to my disbelieving ears like lunatics. For instance, I once met a PhD in psychology who was head of a large city's counseling services in their public school system, a wealthy, educated, powerful man, who to me expressed his great worry - who would take care of his beloved dog after he was lifted off this earth in the coming Christian rapture? If this concerns him, the gatekeeper to the mental health of whole generations of children, then Ken Grimes can have his own concerns and obsessions about communication with Aliens. There, I've just given away Ken Grimes true love.

Anything you are very passionate about, and deeply emotional about, can sound to a stranger's ear as being wacky. Its the down side of holding onto convictions. Anyone who is convinced, to their core, of an idea may sound loopy to someone who does not possess their point of view. Passion is kin to madness. I think that is where the notion comes from that there is something sweet and redeeming in madness. Usually, in madness you find passion.

That is a part of why mental illness is so feared. Alternate views of reality that are experienced with passionate conviction.

We instinctively fear what is different from us.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Goddess Dress

Took the day off from painting. Beautiful day out, temperature in the sixties. The first real day of spring. My dog certainly was affected. When I walked her she was distracted and wanted to pull. Every time she pulled I turned around and went in the opposite direction. Sometimes we would circle three or four times in one spot because as soon as I came out of the backward direction she would pull forward. The past several days we have made enormous strides in training, she has been really focused on me and this enabled me to cover a lot of ground. But today it took 50 minutes to walk around a fifteen minute block. So you see, I really don't tolerate pulling. And you see, my dog is really stubborn about doing what she wishes to do! We are equally stubborn!

Several days ago I was walking downtown and noticed that a store for sophisticated ladies had put an intriguing dress on one of its manikins in the display window. The dress had a hemline that went up and down. It was sleeveless, good for warm weather when all I wear is dresses. And it was cotton. When I was young the big thing was to dress in silk, it felt so good against my skin, (and it looked like luxury) but now with a dog I'm all about cotton. During the spring and summer (and winter) whenever I walk the dog usually I sweat. My dog likes a fast pace, the trainer said her gait is long, and I think my body too reacts to the mental effort it takes to train her. Hot brain, hot body. So I love cotton because you can throw it in the washing machine! I usually wear fresh and clean clothing every day. I just read online that 90 percent of Americans wash their hair every day, so this means that the huge majority of people are taking showers every day. I used to shower every day before my mental illness, but now, I'm lucky to shower once every two or three days. If I don't sweat much I might go as long as four days without showering. Four days without showering means that I've been pretty stressed and busy and feeling mentally ill. But I wear deodorant, perfume, and clean clothes every day. I actually think my hair looks the best on the third day. Natural oils aren't all bad. It is really a big mental effort for me to take a shower. Some days, when times are rough, my only goal during the day might be to take a shower. I always feel better, and accomplished, after. Its as easy as take a shower Karen, and then welcome to the human race.

But back to the dress. I rarely go in that store, it for professional ladies. This dress must be what a professional lady wears out on the weekend or to a party. It is too light and funky for work. But light and funky is fine when you are dog walking! Since I walked by the display window a couple of days ago I worried that they would be sold out of my size (of course what is shown on the manikin is a size small or extra small, not my size) and I worried that the dress would be astronomically expensive. Last week we deposited our tax refund check into our account so I knew that there would be extra money to spend. If I really wanted a treat, now would be the time to get it.

I dressed this morning just for the store. I thought to myself, what kind of lady shops in that store? So I wore dark jeans, a grey tee, and a black Banana Republic tuxedo jacket that I bought - gasp - in a thrift store in Connecticut. Rich state, awesome picks in the thrift stores there. Just to be extra polished, I turned up the bottoms of my jeans. Just a little roll. Just a little flash of the underside of the fabric. Just a little contrast to say look at me, I care about details.

When I stepped into the store I found the dress on display immediately. They were next to the door. It looked like they just arrived, all the sizes were there. It was a designer brand name, so you never know with sizing, some designers size small. If they are snooty designers for wealthy people. But the price was surprisingly modest. I grabbed a large and medium. Let me tell you my obsession with size medium.

I have been, in the past, a woman who can only shop in plus size stores, or in the plus size section of a department store. I know the agony and mite sized shame of walking past a Gap in the mall because nothing in there would fit me. Before my mental illness I spent my freshman year at college running and dieting. I went over the course of a year from a size 14 to a size 4, and I wasn't the only freshman to come to the City and transform herself. A third of my Barnard class were girls who had their families in New York City, and the City prizes thinness. My classmates were usually gorgeous. And sophisticated. The salad bar at Barnard was enormously popular. I felt like a bumpkin, even though I was from Connecticut. I remember discovering the magazine Vogue in a doctor's office when I was in 11th grade. I was astonished by the magazine, and thought it all too outlandish but secretly fascinating. At that time my clothing had to be approved by my father, since he was the one paying for it. Alas, I never got his approval because he usually thought I was either too fat, or too eccentric in my tastes. I was tolerated but never praised. I remember being in Lord and Taylor and arguing with him over a piece of clothing that I wished to buy but which he believed was too weird. How weird can you get in Lord and Taylor? Didn't help my ego that he had his young girlfriend living with us during high school (most people assumed she was his fourth and eldest child) and she was a size 2 or 4.

For a time, after I changed medication and was no longer on an antipsychotic that caused weight gain, my obsession was with whittling myself down to a medium size. At the time I was buying extra extra large from the Gap online. And buying clothes from the woman's section in Wal-Mart. God Bless Wal-Mart. They always have a nice selection of 1x,2x, and 3x clothing that is colorful and affordable. But in my eyes the goal was medium. The middle of middle America. I associated medium with normal. I confess, I worry that if I don't look normal, I won't be treated with respect.

I had no faith in myself this morning so I tried on the large size dress first. And I thought to myself, goodness, what an odd cut this dress has, totally unrealistic for the modern lady. What lady wants arm pockets so deep her bra is showing? And I really don't care to show so much cleavage. But the dress was a designer name, so I thought that they were going for the edgy look of showing off the bra whenever you wore the dress. I don't know why I tried on the medium. I had it with me, so why not? And when I had it on, suddenly no bra showed, the arms were normal, the bust was normal, it fit perfectly. I experienced a sudden glow, I was meant to be a medium! I had arrived at middle America!

And here now, that I have successfully reached this milestone, things get weird.

I no longer wish to be a medium. I want to be a small.

Great Thundering Jehoshaphat, what is wrong with my head? Why can't I be content?

But I want to be as skinny as I was when I was eighteen. Reality check, I'm fourty-four. I know damn well this isn't a mental illness, schizophrenia issue. This is a female issue.

In order to lose more weight I'm going to have to do some cardio exercise. More than walking the dog at a fast clip. I'm going to have to start jogging again. But here is my problem. It is all I can do just to paint, train the dog, and shower periodically. If I jog, I have to shower right after. And this might sound stupid, but its the truth; If I jog, I have to change out of my clothing into exercise gear, and then after showering, wear normal clothing again. As it is hard to shower, it is equally hard to change clothing. Even changing shoes is hard for me. That's why I need cotton when I walk the dog. I can't wear silk, change to walk the dog, and then change back to silk again after. I mean I can, but it takes so much effort. What is simplest is to dress in the morning, go through the day, walk the dog and sweat a bit, come home and sit in bed while the sweat dries, and then continue with the day, with what I put on in the morning. Oh if the dog walking sweat is extreme I'll change into a dry shirt, but usually, I'm only a little damp.

The store I went to today had a back room where all the clothing was on sale. I tried on a pair of velvet pants, no doubt left over from Christmas, but all I could think of is I can't walk a dog in velvet pants! The rubbing of my legs together would fast destroy the velvet. I will, however, walk the dog in velvet skirts, I have two of these found at a thrift store in Connecticut. Velvet skirts don't disintegrate after 60 miles, or, a month's worth of dog walking.

I know everyone has some kind of philosophy that guides the way they dress. My husband, for example, goes for what we like to call the junior executive look. He has a horror of blue pants. Why? Because blue pants are the favorite color for what the factory machine workers wear. Never mind that he doesn't have an office, doesn't have much of a title, and probably only earns a slight margin over what the machinists earn - the perception by most of the men on the factory floor is that he is part of management, and, they even fear him a little! Not because of his personality, he's a really nice guy, but because he dresses as if he were management. So all the blue collar guys think he has the power to get them in trouble! Him and I have the strategy that if you dress well this will help you get a better job. Could be true, could be false, but it seems to be working. I swear, if he gets a promotion it will be because he earned it with hard work and a smart brain. But I was the one behind his junior executive look. When I first met him he dressed all in flannel shirts and loose blue jeans. I took him to thrift stores and we completely upgraded his wardrobe. Now he would never ever wear what he wore before. In fact, there really is only three things that set him apart from the President and owner of the company, who he occasionally takes meetings with. One, the leather soled shoes. Two the Rolex watch. And three the car he came to work in. I suppose if you looked closely at the labels of the clothes there would be a difference too.

If I loose weight for my health, that's one thing. If I loose weight so that I can make my Dad like me a little more, or look like my sister or step-sister or step-mother or step-daughter - all who are small or extra small sizes! - talk about being surrounded by beauty - then I'm not accepting who I am.

And the devil in me says, - why settle for anything that is less than fantastic, stellar, enviable?

And the devil in my says, - admit it, you want to look like a princess. Perhaps a mad princess, but one never-the-less.

And the realist in me says - wear only what you can walk the dog in, and throw into the washing machine after. You don't have to throw it into the dryer after, you can air dry it on a rack and put the machine on the delicate cycle, but absolutely and always draw the line at dry cleaning.

If you splurge, at the extreme, and it is inadvisable considering how much energy you lack - hand wash.

I bought the medium dress today. This weekend, I'll try to jog a bit.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

He Kissed My Hand!

Visit went well with therapist. It was really weird to see my husband in action with my therapist. My therapist got a mild shock when my husband said he's seen mentally ill people come on and off medication all the time and swing in their moods and behavior - I guess my therapist forgot that my husband really did work with the mentally ill as a health care provider. At first my therapist said "you mean you've seen Karen come off and on medication" and my husband corrected him. My husband told a little story about a person who didn't know that they were behaving differently off medication, but that it was clear to him that the fellow was quite a different man.

My therapist said that the main reason he wanted the visit was because I said I would lie to my medication provider and do whatever I wished with my medication. This worried him and made him think that I should have a new medication provider, one I trusted more and had better communication with. And my husband laughed and said, "I know Karen. She might go intending to lie, but once she was in the room, she would tell the truth. Karen is incapable of lying."

Do you know what a thrill it is for someone to have so much confidence in you? In your moral nature?

And then to top it off, my husband took my hand, kissed the back of it, and put it on his knee, covering it with his own hand.

Inside I was like, my God, he's so gallant! And he's saying to my therapist piss off, the lady is mine!

The therapist did not, for whatever reason, want a long visit. In further conversation my husband said that I was bold, a fact he realized when I was willing to leave my last abusive husband for him (not in my eyes a bold move, simple self preservation) and this lead to a discussion on divorce and lawyers, and my therapist was practically ready to leap out of his chair, he wanted the visit to terminate. But my husband said, "before we go, do you want to hear a good lawyer joke?" And then he told a funny joke I had not heard before and we all laughed. It seemed rather clear to me that the strongest personality in the room was my husband's. And he seemed too to be the healthiest of the lot of us.

On the way home I commented on my therapist' lack of interest in keeping us in the room. My husband's take was that it was painful for him to see us together. "He's probably a little in love with you" my husband said.

I think my therapist just wanted to go have lunch or meet up with some friends, it was a Saturday after all, and he wasn't planning on charging us for the visit, so he saw he was wasting his time. One, my husband was just as experienced and knowledgeable about medication changes as he was, and two my husband said I was incapable of lying to my medication provider! My husband characterized my medication provider as a cranky grandmotherly type.

Actually, I think he's right one thing. I couldn't lie to her, even if I said so. And in fact, I had steeled myself to tell her the truth a long while back, and it was in a moment of willful obstinacy that I threw out the idea about lying. Not something that is really memorable to me.

Painting again. Background grass which is really boring, but necessary. I should listen to music while I'm doing the boring bits. Just bought at Wal-Mart the best of the Rolling Stones and haven't opened it yet, am drooling to listen to it.

How come the Rolling Stone's music makes me feel like a sexy woman?