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.