In April 2021, I decided I would resume my art practice. I hadn’t painted a thing since my father’s cancer diagnosis and experiencing the mourning of his eventual death. It had been a hard year. In April, I picked up my paintbrush again, almost reluctantly, but necessarily.
During his care, I didnt have any desire to paint, only to take care of him to the best of my ability and spend as much time with him as I could, as we could as a family. After his death, my grief snatched my paintbrush from me, and anytime I even so much as walked into my studio, I would be reminded of my father.
When I finally did start to paint again on my first painting, it was a little more difficult than I expected. Not just like learning to ride a bike again, where muscle memory takes over, but learning to ride a bike with square wheels – not going anywhere very fast, even if going through the motions. To loosen up, when I taught one of my adult art students, we did a collaborative painting exercise, in which we would each make paint marks on individual canvases, abstract, and then switch canvases after every 4 minutes and do it again. The quick mark making and timed sessions helped to break down some of my hesitancy to even work with paint again, and it filled my studio with the smells of active oil painting again. This helped.
Over several weeks in March 2021, I kept having a recurring image stuck in my mind, an idea for a painting for when I returned to painting. It was of a canvas transitioning from black at the top evenly to a cool purple at the bottom, in the rainy style, but with a burst of white at the bottom right quarter of the canvas. I couldn’t specify exactly at the time what the image was, but I feel like the darker colors may have been influenced some by the sadness and grief I had been experiencing vividly every day.
So, I chose four colors – ivory black, dioxazine purple, cobalt violet, and white. Keeping my palette simple and my concept simple, I dipped my brush to canvas, and placed thick daubs of paint throughout the canvas, and the image in my head vaguely emerged, final so I could confront it visually and face it. The colors surprised me by how collectively dark they were, as I’m usually a bright-and-saturated-happy colors kind of person. But I allowed my brush to move. I cannot say that there weren’t a few quiet tears that emerged as I painted, it’s just become normal now any time I take a step forwards again.
The emerging image eventually had the feel of a cloudy, almost haunting, cloudy full-moon night over some purple mountains. I didn’t hesitate to use big gobs of black paint, as I no longer will shy away from using straight out black paint, which I had intentionally avoided using in past painting years.
Once the canvas was covered, it was time for me to employ my signature “rain” paintbrush application and smearing of paint using stand oil, pressure and gravity. I dipped my brush in the stand oil, and proceeded to drag the brush from top to bottom, mixing and smearing downwards all the paint from top to bottom, removing much of the paint in the process, leaving a somewhat distorted vision of what was previously painted. It felt good to do this process again. And in a way symbolic. This whole year, and especially the last 6 months, had been looked forward to and planned with some level of great precision, and then the storms of Dad’s pancreatic cancer, just destroyed and distorted all that as my world fell.
I let the canvas continue to drip for a few hours, and I returned to it every couple of hours with a brush to blend in some of the drips, to help others drip further, and to edit out some drips, especially the ones that were encroaching on the white paint, in order to maintain the clarity and impact of that part of the painting. I really loved noticing some of the striations and nuances in the detail of the the mixing, dripping, paint when looked at at close range. After a couple days, the paint stopped dripping, and I was left with the finished painting.
I was a bit surprised by just how dominant the application of the black paint ended up being. I removed some paint towards the bottom of the canvas that helps to show some more of the purple a bit better, but visible only in controlled lighting. In my original vision, the gradation from black to purple was much more even and gradual. I’m thinking of possibly painting this composition again, but this time use less-thick daubs of black paint on the top, and bring the purple mountain “horizon” line up more to halfway. I’m satisfied with how the white “light” kind of feels like a flicker, or a glow, picking up some of the purple around it. Reminds me of a match lit in a dark hallway, a light of hope even in darkness sort of thing.
It may not have turned out the way that I had anticipated or planned (isn’t it rare if anything ever actually does?), but I’m so glad that I’ve picked up the paintbrush again and got it moving again. Stay tuned for more upcoming paintings, now that I’ve started the momentum again of painting.
I’m also in need of suggestions for titles for this painting. Let me know if you have any ideas that strike you!