Friday, January 31, 2014

Painting Myself? or how Art Journaling became Imagined Portraits.

So, the selfie isn't the most becoming picture. But it's the only one at the right angle I could find!
A friend saw my paintings and asked a good question.

"Are you painting pictures of yourself?"

Now, at first, I was confused. Most of my paintings don't look much like me. I mean, sure, they are usually paintings of brown women, most often with big, natural hair and huge earrings - style characteristics I share. But when I look at them I don't see me. In fact, I don't really think of who they might be until after they start to form on the canvas or paper.

But after she asked, I took the question and interrogated why I started painting these imagined portraits in the first place.

I was suffering (do suffer) with insomnia and a vascular issue that made it ten times worse. I was already painting abstracts in the middle of the night to quiet my mind. I found painting, as opposed to reading  or writing  (which I do a lot of professionally and personally), relaxing.

One of the other things I do in the middle of the night is surf the internet and look at craft and art blogs. There is this huge online community of women mixed media artists who use art journaling to create diaries, understand the world, vent frustration, and quite a few create awesome art. Faces figure largely in the genre.

What I noticed when I tried to replicate the many techniques and tutorials was that my imagination was decidedly darker. I wasn't interested or motivated by beautiful flowers or butterfly fairies (don't get me wrong I like that sort of art, I just don't make it). And my faces were always dark faces. So very few of the art journal/mix media types on the net right now are women of color who paint women of color in their work. The craft meets fine art elements of art journaling appeal to me.

So, my paintings emerged as failed attempts at art journaling - inserting brown faces into the themes and canvases typical to the genre.I ended up imagining portraits of dark women as decorative, interesting, both deep and frivolous. I started imagining these as pictures on my fantasy gallery wall (one day, I will have a house full of art!).

Now, does it mean that all my paintings are pictures of me, because I paint them with similar themes and and they are black women that share features? Nope. Not at all. But I think I am compelled to paint them because I have a deep need for a widened imaginary when it comes to the decorative art I put in my own home and that my daughter sees.

Thursday, January 30, 2014


Early selfie. 
Some of my friends (and internet snarks at-large) hate selfies.

 Half of the haters are hypocrites. While they talk smack about duck-faced teens and muscly guys with dirty mirror selfies, they routinely post pictures of themselves in more "respectable" poses that I'm certain -- because I have taken my share of selfies-- that they took of themselves although they pretend that they did not take them.

Half of the selfie haters are just clueless about why someone would take a photo of themselves. The assumption is that we only take selfies to show off how cute we are through a filter (argh, Instagram). And while that maybe partly true, as a selfie-lover I can think of lots of reasons to take a selfie. I was taking selfies while working at a computer support center in the early 2000s and that was before social media made it the norm.

When I look at myself through my own lens (whether it be my expensive digital camera, my iPhone, or my webcam) so many things are going on. Sometimes I really am like my duck-faced peers. I want to check out how cute I am. I want to take a picture and show my friends that I'm doing fine and looking fine.Other times, I'm trying to figure something out. I have this expressive hair and sometimes I can only figure out what to do with it (or if what I've done with it has worked) through a photo.

Then there are the times when I feel like I share something with the woman in the early selfie above. I don't know anything about her. We can assume she was a photographer. Look at the photos on the shelf beside her. Her face in the camera is contemplative. She's an artist trying to figure something out. Maybe it's something about the camera itself. Maybe it's something about posing or timing. Maybe it's something about herself. Her dress is pretty fancy. Maybe she wanted to document it.

I take lots of pictures of my face. I look at myself and imagine how others see me.I try to figure out if my internal view of myself is what I present to others. I wonder if I can actually stare in my own eyes. I have existential moments when the photos I take of myself serve as studies of my own existence. Am I here? What am I? Who am I?

Selfies help me document moments in my life that would otherwise pass without reflection. Before my own lens I become a subject of my own regard. Overtime I can see how I have changed, what has remained. I am able to know more about me.

Is it vanity? Certainly it is sometimes. I'm cool with that.

Some selfies are just for myself (r) and others are for mass consumption.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Fayum Portraits

Fayum Mummy Portrait (source)
I am obsessed with pictures of faces. I love portraits. Self portraits taken with bad phone cameras in mirrors (see my next post on selfies). Portraits painted by classical Western master painters. Cheezy head shots. I love them all. 

There is something about representations of the human face as imagined by humans. I don't care if the result is photo realistic or the squiggly chaos of a child's crayon drawing. Faces mesmerize me. 

Take the Coptic era Fayum Mummy Portraits from ancient Egypt. These busts of long dead women, children, and men painted on wood boards to adorn the mummies of upper caste members of society are distractingly beautiful. While they have elements of realism - each portrait suggests the character of the person depicted - they share a set of conventions. The length of the neck, the roundness of the eyes the shape of the face are similar across the portraits and we can assume that these people didn't all share these characteristics.

 And yet, it is because they share these details that somehow these portraits seem more real to me, suggest that those ancient people were really people with lives and hopes and dreams before they were laid to rest. There is a sense of recognition of kinship, of humanness that these mummy portraits bring to mind for me. 

If you haven't seen the wide variety of these portraits - Google Fayum Mummy Portait and be amazed. 

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Like MahMah, YahYah...

watercolors fun at every age. 
I usually paint in the wee hours of the morning. When the kiddo is tucked in bed, dreaming of cookies, pirates, and unicorns (actual description of a recent dream!), I am in my little guest bedroom turned home studio painting.

But weekend mornings, the YahYah wakes up and wants to know if it's a school day and if it isn't, she wants to paint. So, we sit at the dining room table and paint. It is the best of times.

I paint because I love the feeling I get from making things and painting these days quiets my hyperactive mind. I would paint whether or not anyone else ever saw anything I made. My kiddo, on the other hand, exclaims every few minutes as we paint - "MahMah! I am a great artist! I make great paintings!"

Yes, YahYah, you do.