Wednesday, September 3, 2008

The story behind "Katrina"


"Katrina" represents a turning point in my painting style. I have always been interested in creating paintings with complex textures. Prior to this, I had been using modeling paste and dried paint chips to create impasto surfaces. But I always wanted to take surface building further. I wanted to make paintings with a more sculptural quality, something approaching bas-relief. "Katrina" is the first painting for which I used deconstructed cardboard to build my textures, and so she is the ancestor of all my current paintings.

As the news stories about the 3 year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina began to be broadcast last week, I realized that my painting "Katrina" is 3 years old now. The summer of 2005 was a difficult one for me, though I cannot imagine how much worse it must have been for residents of the areas destroyed by the hurricanes. They lost everything. All I lost was my job. The store where I worked had closed its doors for good. My new fall classes at Harrington had not yet begun. The only new job I found would have required that I drop out of school mid-semester because of the hours it required. I could not find anything else. I had grown so discouraged that turned to a book that had been sitting on my shelf for years: The Artists Way. I'd read it once before, but made the mistake of speed-reading it and not doing any of the activities. This time, I had all the time in the world and no excuses. I made a list of things to accomplish. One of them was "make a blue painting."

So one late August day, I began building the framework for my new blue painting. They interrupted Oprah to report that a hurricane was passing over New Orleans. I painted the background white and let it dry. Over the next few days as I experimented and added more color to the painting, I watched more CNN than I have ever watched before or since. I witnessed a most horrific aftermath. I couldn't look away. By the time the National Guard finally arrived, the painting was finished. I had never intended to make any sort of political statement with it, but I knew I had to call it "Katrina." Looking at my finished work transports me to the time when I created. It's as though each stroke and line is some sort of mnemonic device. I remember what I was doing , what music I was listening to. And knowing that every time I looked at my new painting I would think of what I saw on CNN, there was no better name than the one I've chosen for it.

I did try to do a painting that actually is about the storm's aftermath, but it's still unfinished. I am calling it "Heckuva Job." It was the first painting I did when I went back to grad school. I has been very difficult for me. It's large, it's oils, and it's figurative. Every time I worked on it I had no idea what I was doing. I still don't. The only thing that kept me from giving up on it completely was a chance encounter I had in the hallway at school. I was carrying canvases through the halls because that first trimester I always parked in the wrong parking lot. I met a woman who said she wished she could paint something on a big canvas like that, but she can't because she lost all her art supplies in the flooding after Katrina. I never saw her again, but she's the reason I can't paint over "Heckuva Job" and use the canvas to make a completely new painting. I have to finish it in her honor. Someday I will.

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