The other evening my husband and I were cleaning out the garage. Impulsively, I started to unwrap a painting I did in college that had been in storage since our move to Colorado nearly five years ago. As I tore the cardboard and cut the packaging tape, I did have the brief thought of "What am I doing?". Our hip, young, arty neighbors were outside, and I wanted to share the painting with them, perhaps to demonstrate that I too, was once cool, young, and arty.
By the time I was able to free my painting from its cardboard confines, our neighbors had gone back inside, and I felt it would be especially uncool to knock on their door just for the purpose of sharing my painting. That most likely was a cognitive error on my part, but none the less, I didn't continue the effort to share. I had destroyed the cardboard in my zeal to unearth the painting. Not wanting to leave it exposed in the garage, I decided to bring the painting back inside the house.
"Wow," I thought, "that IS a big painting." The painting is in in oil over stretched canvas and measures approximately 60" x 48". I made it over the course of 4 hours in a Figure Painting class in college. Our instructor had posed a small skeletal model of a baby near the female model. She didn't explain why.
I painted what I saw, but I mostly painted what I felt. In a 'trance' for several hours, I chose to use only grays, whites and blacks. It was one of the 'quickest' paintings I've ever made. I felt odd about this, like I cheated or something, until I won an award for the painting later on in the school year. That tangible aspect of external validation goes a long way.
Most viewers who come across the painting have remarked that it is a statement regarding either the pro-life or pro-choice movements. Looking at it myself, I can see how it could be interpreted that way. For me, the painting was a way to sublimate feelings of immense loss and sadness. I had recently been dumped by my college boyfriend, a man I had assumed at the time was "the one".
As upset as I was at the time, after class I do remember feeling a little lighter, as if I had let go of tiny piece of what I now call The Big Hurt. How lucky I was to be in art school, where large figurative abstract paintings were still en vogue and encouraged by the instructors. I poured my despair into the painting "Sorry", aptly titled to describe how I felt at the time, as if I alone was wholly responsible for the end of the relationship.
Those days were when the seedlings of my interest in art therapy began to sprout.
Geneen Roth, states in her recent book, Women, Food, and God, that "With awareness (the ability to know what you are feeling) and presence (the ability to inhabit a feeling while sensing that which is bigger than the feeling), it is possible to be with what you believe will destroy you without being destroyed." Little did I know that in art class, I was cultivating awareness and presence. I was able to step into the feeling of loss. Actually it was more like an ocean of loss, the loss of relationship extending to loss of self. I was able muck around in there for a while with presence as my life buoy. And then I was able to come out, and let a little bit of those feelings go.
Fast forward to last week when I rediscovered my 12 year old painting in our garage. "Wow, that's a big painting. I still have this?!? Ah yes, my painting about breaking up with 'what's his name'. This thing is an albatross. I wonder if I can sell it on Craigslist."
Kind of funny, isn't it? At the time, I thought I would never get over what's his name, so much so I made a big public monument to his loss. Now I rediscover the painting and the loss and think "This thing is getting in my way." My point is that somewhere between then and now, by engaging in art practices, creating the "Sorry" painting and subsequent others, I had moved through that experience of loss. It wasn't like I woke up and shouted, "I'm healed!" But gradually, through the presence and awareness that comes with engaging in art materials, I was able to fill the void that loss had created in a healthy and safe manner.
Now, I have so much to be thankful for. My husband, my family, a job I am passionate about. Anyone want a big painting? I'll give it to you for a song.