STAY. an artwork that almost didn't
It was the largest canvas artwork of my career to date. A whopping five feet tall. I stared at it's vast blankness with all the nervy excitement of someone about to embark on an adventure. This was my challenge, the wide open white space of over 2,000 square inches.
I had no idea what I was going to paint, typical for me who often paints with no plan, no clear outcome or specific subject matter. Artists like me refer to ourselves as creative intuitives. We create by feel rather than by blueprint.
I started slinging paint like a crazy woman. With music turned up loud and rowdy, just the way I like it, I moved in a whir with whatever colors my heart desired. They were my dance partners, my lovers for the night. I don't know how late it was before I finally stopped moving. I have often joked that I live my life (and art) in two speeds : Idle and Fast.
I stared at the colorful mess before me. Then I saw them, two figures emerging from the chaos, a decidely curvy female and a young male lurking on the edge as if he would escape from this painting if he could.
I pulled out their shapes with more paint and as I did, words begin to surface like telegraph messages being delivered.
I need you.
Don't leave me all alone.
I wasn't sure what I thought of this painting and it's cryptic messages with it's cacophony of color. There was a love/don't love feeling about it. So I decided to hang it in my bedroom where perhaps sleeping near it would change my perspective. And it did.... somewhat. I began to bond with this painting that I had decided to call Stay though it still caused me to feel angsty whenever I gazed at it.
It reminded me of Hong Kong, a city I lived in when I was younger. I lived there just shy of seven years. Hong Kong is a dense urban environment. It has bragging rights for it's urban child Mong Kok, the densest city district in the world with over 300,000 people per square mile. In the years that I lived there I navigated crowded subways, double-decker busses teeming with passengers and bustling open-air markets full of domestic amahs and grandmothers as well as fish peddlers. It was a vibrant, colorful city to explore, a true international metropolis. I had an exciting community of friends including expats from around the world. While my friends back home went to college (or jail!), I went to Hong Kong where I learned much about the world, culture and what it is to be human rather than American.
It baffled me why all this energy about Hong Kong would bubble up in this art. I have not lived in HK since the early 90s, and my last visit there was over ten years ago. Why would all this Hong Kong energy show up ? And why is there an undercurrent of angst in all the excitement of this abstract cityscape?
After being up on my bedroom wall for months, I took it down. Perhaps it is just time to let this one go. It is not hard to start a new painting on top of an old painting. Artists do it all the time. God only knows how many originals people have in their homes that unknowingly hold dead art underneath.
"Tell me about this painting," said a recent visitor to my studio. I glibly replied that I was thinking about making it a Do-Over.
"Why?" she asked. "What is it you see that you want to do over?"
"I'm just not sure I like it," I said. "I've never been sure if I like it... even though it reminds me of Hong Kong, a city I love very much."
She indicated that she liked the painting, that she was drawn to it and wanted to know the story of it. I began to engage with this painting in a way I had not before. I had never told the story of the painting. I had merely stared at it as if it was a postcard relic found in the bottom of the kitchen junk drawer.