Where Paintings Come From
Most of the time artists don't feel like artists. We'd give anything for some bunny to show up and lead us to a magical place of wonder where there is something to make art about. Wonder is key. Art is about wondering.
Sitting in my tiny blue bedroom, (more of a ship's cabin as I have it decorated in a beachy theme and it's very small) I was looking around and thinking my life was just too small to find any good art in it. Then I noticed two of the pictures on my wall are paper dolls from a trip to the Kennedy Center when I was a teen-- with my mother and grandmother. I've had them on my wall in every bedroom or art studio since the early 90s.
Why do I have these? I suddenly wondered. What is the point of them? Why do I carry around these pictures of Alice in Wonderland, and Peter Rabbit? What do they possibly have in common? Why can't I give these pictures up after fifteen moves, a fire, a divorce, relocation, death, and disaster-- these paper doll posters are still on my wall. What gives?
Well, that's when I was able to admit maybe for the first time, that sure I wish I was a serious artist, but I love rabbits. The proof is there on the wall along with a poster from the ballet here in town a few years ago, Alice in Wonderland. It was magical. Life-changing. I even renamed my book of poetry Tea with Alice because of the experience-- or rather what it symbolized to me.
So I took all that inventory of myself and my associations with this symbol of the rabbit and I knew for the first time that my favorite character was the white rabbit. Always has been. And Peter rabbit is another life long love of mine. You know I grow geraniums by the front door, red ones, even though I don't care for red flowers, and I'm allergic to geraniums? Why? Peter Rabbit. Obviously, my subconscious knows what I love best. I do not. Yesterday, I noticed I have a small rag doll type bunny in my room, it's the only animal I have in the room beside a porcelain bird. I found a small wooden bunny about 1/2 an inch tall in my jewelry box too. The more I took inventory the more I had to admit. There was a pattern. So subconsciously I've been collecting bunnies. Can someone have a subconscious collection? I guess I do. I was looking in my bedroom because it is so very tiny and the remnants there are only what is the super most important to me, things I couldn't' bear to part with.
When I thought of the white rabbit, B'rer rabbit, and Peter rabbit all together, you get someone obsessed with rabbits. So maybe I'm a little loony to the rest of the world. But you understand we all have things we love and artists are the ones whose job is to actually stop and figure out what exactly they love and then make art about. Sometimes they stop to figure out why. Sometimes not. Anyway, I had two things in my sketchbook. And as a full-time artist, I needed to make something. On one side of the page I wrote, "Paint a self-portrait!" Meaning, Get Serious!! On the other side of the page, I wrote "Paint Peter Rabbit or the White Rabbit?
All of a sudden I drew an arrow between them and wrote, do all of them at once. I had the subject for a new painting at last. And I hope it is a breakthrough. In thinking on the topic, I discovered I had a lot of thoughts and ideas-- and a memory of finding a baby rabbit when I was five years old and petting it on the playground. Everyone scolded me and said not to touch it, or the mother might abandon it. As a child, there was nothing more painful to me than the fact that animals couldn't talk, and I was forever being told not to touch them. I didn't listen, and considering how little I see animals now, I'm not sorry.
Here is a picture of what I came up with and what I wrote about it. I had planned a self-portrait, a Van Gogh's Ear Painting: Something to show myself in the process of being wounded or being healed. Instead, I pulled an image from my subconscious the character of a small defenseless rabbit who is the bad guy. Someone who has a retreat. Someone who has followed bad advice. And in the story of Alice in Wonderland, her white rabbit even serves a terrible queen who chops off people's heads. That has got to be his regret later. This is the image I came up with so I called it Self Portrait: Reflection. To talk about a character who regrets wasting time looking up to the wrong leader, taking the wrong job. I never had a painting come out so easily. And of course, someone bought the piece in just one day so I never got to hang out with it. But I put it on the cover of my first book of poems on a similar topic.
Here is a story of how a painting comes to be. I guess I'd call it. Desperation, Observation, Self Reflection, and a bit of whimsy, then stir it all together.