Sunday, July 24, 2016

Closing the Book

Closing the Book, 36"x24", acrylic on canvas, 2016.

"Closing the Book" is an acrylic painting that I completed over three years. While in progress, this painting traveled with me through four moves and some rough times. I originally intended it to have a much smoother look, and to apply gold leaf to the book in the model's hands, but finally deciding to accept and embrace its rough, "unfinished" appearance was cathartic. 

In hindsight, my progress on this painting paralleled my life while I worked on it. In the beginning, I was uncertain of what direction to go, but started off happily, and things seemed easy. I enjoyed the challenge of painting in a medium I don't use very often, and painting a model I hadn't painted before. 

My favorite challenges were the slender stripes of shadow and light across the model's face and the cracking, peeling leather and soft, battered edges of the books. 

I had a migraine while I was working on this part of the painting. I remember it distinctly. Trying to paint the faded cover of Grillparzers Werke (ca. 1880) while half-blind with a scintillating scotoma is a challenge unto itself (Mayo Clinic has a very accurate animation of what migraine with aura does to your vision.)

The painting became a technical and psychological struggle as challenges arose in my life. As I became overwhelmed with life, I became overwhelmed by the painting, and simply set it aside; in both cases, it was easier not to face the problem than to fix it. But the painting was never far from my mind. 

Finally, the opportunity arose to enter a show whose book theme fit this painting perfectly. That was the kick in the pants I needed. The timing was perfect, because over the past year, I have been rebuilding my life, reclaiming things that I had lost, and rediscovering myself. I am in a much better place and beginning a new journey, but I realized I had not brought this painting with me, so to speak. 

This time, when I looked at the painting, instead of seeing an overwhelming hurdle, I saw my life, my painting. I saw that I needed to bring this painting with me into a better place. I decided the painting was perfect as-is and embraced its rough appearance. Accepting the appearance of the painting was also accepting myself; adding the finishing touches became an act of reclamation and closure.

As I added layers, smoothed over lines, and coated the sides of the painting, I thought about the past four years of my life, how they effected this painting, and how this painting--and the three-year lack of paintings--reflected my psyche. Painting the sides and installing hanging hardware were happy and satisfying acts--I had already retaken control of my life, but this was like planting my flag in the ground. This was closing the book on one part of my life and opening up a new one. 

I started this painting because I wanted to combine several of my interests into one project: portraits, kimonos, antique books, metal objects. Now, this painting means much more to me than I ever thought it would. I look at the well-worn books in this painting and I see a past that is a little bit battered, but well loved. 

The book contains a difficult chapter, but the obstacles have been overcome and the story arc has lead to a happy ending. Now, that book is closed, and blank pages lie before me to write the next book in the series. This painting speaks to me about independence, self-respect, acceptance, closure, and hope. "Closing the Book" is about new beginnings.

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