Theodore Roosevelt once said,
“Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.”
This is what I have.
There is very little in my home that I did not have some part in making. My curtains, my pillows, scarfs, shelves, clothing, art, dinner every night, and while I certainly don’t make tomatoes, I do grow them.
This, I believe, is good.
I believe it is good because I become an active participant in my home. I am trying, however feebly, to be less of a consumer. To utilize skill over cash, to slow it all down, to live simply.
I also think there is merit in seeing these things as valuable in and of themselves. That the small and repetitive acts of washing dishes, cooking, and washing more dishes is a good portion of what makes up our days; and in our days, our lives. Noticing these things plucks us from our hurried pace and miserly sensibilities. It has the potential to make us thankful, watchful people; people who may even glimpse the sacred not outside of, but in the mundane.
For me, the act of painting still lifes has been an act of taking stalk of what I have, noticing the small, useful objects in my home.
Painting them has been a sort of slow meditation on the small corners of my life. What I have to work with, to mold, to offer, to change. You see, for an artist to render anything beautiful, the artist must first see the subtle inconsistencies that make the object unique. In fact, if you want to paint a person and have that picture look accurate, it’s actually the asymmetry in the person’s face that makes the portrait come alive. For us to truly render something, we have to look closely enough to see the inconsistencies, the flaws, and paint them unflinchingly.
So I painted still lifes. The real objects in my home. What helps me keep it clean, what is common and ordinary and imperfect. Paintings that are subtle, knowing that subtlety in both painting and in life is often overlooked.
I focused on a quiet palette. These are soft colors, pinks, greens, blues and greys and whites. There is the occasional accent of orange, but over all, it is a soothing color scheme. I also focused not only on the object, but on negative space. I wanted there to be quite a bit of negative space. This is intentional.
Good artists employ negative space as powerfully as they do positive space and rendering. This is a weakness of mine, for when I get nervous I like to fill things in and make them more complex and specific. It has been a process for me to back off, let the painting breathe.
But it’s not only that.
It’s that negative space is powerful in a lot more than painting.
There are things in my life that are absent. And their very absence both informs and forms what is present.
It is an absence that at first seems so familiar that it is difficult to see. I noticed this absence one day while talking with my friends. We were all so excited about our projects, our heirloom tomatoes, good chicken stock, home-made cleaning products. We are all white, young, educated, middle class women. This is a glaring absence in my life.
So the negative space in my life has shaped me. And shapes me.
I am acutely aware even as I write this, that the blog I keep has specific omissions that make it engaging to read. It is beautiful and simple and inviting. It is also conspicuously lacking any sense of struggle, tension or uncomfortable truth.
These paintings are celebrations and convictions. They are simultaneously gestures of gratitude for the beautiful mundane, and explorations of glaring vacancies. They have a simple, appealing aesthetic. This is part of it. The aesthetic of my life is simple, and lovely. It is also haunted as much by what is not there, as that which is.
This is what I can do. With what I have. Talking about where I am.