It was Ellen, the first gallery owner requesting to represent my work who defined what I was doing as an artist. Long before I had any idea myself. All I knew was I just wanted to paint. No, I lived to paint. Something so vital like breathing or snow skiing. It just fit and kept me alive. Ellen was blue ribbon right about my art before I recognized the one-of-a-kind “artist me” fully formed already happening. She just saw it and named it.
It took some time to get from where I was to embracing Ellen’s clear pronouncement of my art.
Twenty years ago, after asking myself Three Questions I decided I would try to become good at painting. It was my childhood dream to become an artist, specifically a painter. Thwarted by The Fates, I was adopted into a family of left brain engineers and an accountant who to this day cannot wrap their calculator dependent, bean counting heads around my career change. Oh well, everyone gets to be exactly who they want to be and act accordingly. For me, Life is a palette of oil paints-quick grab that brush and swish your way into Happyland.
At first I was terrified of being awful at painting. But my heart wouldn’t have any of that. Desire or more like obsession took over what my growing up family would have called my better judgment. Once I started painting though, I was like a two year old on a tricycle pumping furiously straight into the bushes. I was driven to give painting a full on go, wobbling at treacherous speeds toward probable disaster. What an enthusiastic mess I was. I joined classes often beyond my skill just to get more practice, inspiration and well…more skills of course. I was so distracted by the shear joy of it, I would trip over other students’ easels. Plural, yes, more times than I’d like to admit. Call me a late-in-life slobbering underdog-wannabe hoping to make the dream team.
Painting, a solitary activity learned in groups has its challenges. I knew I was way behind having clocked in on only a couple college level courses with no substantial proof of competence. I did not care which surprised even me. I took it on anyway. That business about perseverance prevailing over talent? I’m your poster child.
Now, I have had my low points in life, losing my grip at times pondering on why my small person was placed here on earth. Never understood my purpose or why living was just so damn hard sometimes. But then I started painting. Suddenly, I was no longer swimming against a brutal current of lifeless expectations. I was home, in thigh deep powder skiing the steep stuff. My reason to be here was revealed to me. My job I now know is to create joy then send it out into the world. I can still go gloomy on occasion, though I rarely stay long because the canvas keeps calling and the light never stops beckoning.
And the light is really what got me, my catnip dopamine, my leprechaun gold. It’s always been about the light for me. I’ve written about it (read my post about Complementary Colors), watched it shine hope into my work and my life. Light just Is. Waves and particles beyond words, floating, tossing rays, sparks, reflecting, glazing the whole beautiful world. And so am I, completely full of that glowing wonder, when I pick up a paintbrush mixing up color.
My first paintings were attempts to capture illusive spots of sunshine at a distance away, putting a glow on places I wished to be. A turn way down a rocky trail inhabited by a leafy young tree lit by morning shine; a distant lakeshore gleaming golden in the fading afternoon glow. Fantasy landscapes of longing, too far to grasp. Hmmm. Let’s ask Freud what he would say about that and unfulfilled inner yearnings. The more I painted the more I wanted to paint and to live in this new life. No really, longing to be alive to paint. To just have the opportunity to attempt the next painting, no matter how awful. Painting outside in the sunlight.
As the years and the color filled canvases mounted, my artist focus pulled in closer. I wanted to know more intimately everything I painted. An aspen leaf fluttering golden in fall; its curved shadow splashed against smooth white bark. Blue shadows streaking a snow filled avalanche chute cast by rock jutting wickedly on a steep mountain face. An edge of a poppy petal backlit by late in the day, late springtime sunshine. Dappled bits of light on a spotted fawn curled in a grassy woodland clearing. Chasing moments, quick exquisite pieces of now sometimes only for an exhale. Lazy fat bumblebee wings varnished to shimmering for a wink. Bluebird wings beating a swirl of atmosphere, churning aloft on a cushion of air. A swift flick of white on a thick fox tail deep in meadow wildflowers.
It’s been more than 15 years since I met Ellen who was creating her own southern hometown dream. She remains my fan and longtime friend. Ellen adored my work from the start. It was what I needed. Thank you, Universe for delivering her faith in me First Class.
When I asked her so many years ago what it is exactly that she liked about my artwork, she took her time before she pronounced, “I don’t know”. Pausing again in that way she does, head cocked as she took in my latest batch of paintings.
“It’s your colors and the way your paintings are just so alive with light and full of movement”.
She paused then drawled, “and your work doesn’t look like anyone else. I always know it’s your painting the minute I see one”.
So there it is. Whether I had it then or grew into her vision is hard to know. But it fits.
For each of you out there, searching for why you are here, who you should be, and what purpose you were meant for in this life, I wish for you the journey to joy I have found in painting. Be alive.