Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Death, Trauma, and Art

Boy, that's a cheerful title for a post, isn't it? My line of thought today came about from another artist. I've swapped notes with her on the Art Calendar networking site recently. I saw that her art had gone through a fundamental change in the last few months and is now much stronger in composition, color, and, well, everything. Turns out that her mother passed away about four months ago, which has changed her whole approach to art. Essentially, she's working through the grieving process through paint.


Coming face-to-face with some of life's more brutal realities certainly does affect art. It did mine. My art is figurative and realistic - meaning I paint people so that you can recognize them. But that changed on 9/11. Suddenly what I was doing seemed so pointless, like piddling away my life when people were dying. I went in the studio that afternoon and literally threw paint at a canvas. The next day I started two abstract paintings. One was violent, the other peaceful.


Response 1


Response 2

Of course, you know that I didn't stay with this line of work. It's not my natural voice. But it was appropriate for my own personal response to 9/11. (As an aside, I've since noticed that I periodically come back to working in a yin/yang way like this ... I'll have one canvas going that has one feeling, and another canvas going that has an opposite feeling). Subsequent to these two paintings, I got more concerned with technical and formal art issues than with my initial gut reaction to the planes flying into buildings, and the abstract works petered out into pure junk. Eventually I worked my way back into figurative realistic painting. But many of the lessons I learned on these two canvases have stayed with me ... there are things in Warrior that I could never have painted if it wasn't for Response 1 and Response 2.

So now I'm wondering, for you artists out there in ALL media (not just visual arts, either), how has your work been affected by your own brush with death and trauma? Was there a big shift in what you do? If so, was it permanent or temporary? I'm really curious about this.

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