Freedom Fighters, acrylic on canvas, 40" x 24" (sold)
As I sit down to write about this piece, I struggle to put the right words to it. Even as the artist, I recognize how this artwork speaks for itself.
I started it a year ago. The clients who commissioned me gave me a pretty open brief, other than relative size guidelines and some hints about which of my artworks they were more drawn to. They even said, “Take as much time as you need, we don’t care if it takes you months, or even a year.” I laughed to myself at the idea of it taking a whole year. I am humbled.
So I had a lot of creative freedom, which can be a really great thing for an artist. We don't want to be boxed in. These clients especially understood the necessity of allowing creativity to set its own pace, and were extremely supportive and trusting.
But this same amount of freedom can also be daunting.
I have a complicated relationship with commissions. I find a lot of purpose in creating for others, there is nothing that can replace that feeling of seeing something that I created move someone so deeply. In ways I thrive under a good challenge. In other ways I buckle. This is the part that teaches me where work needs to be done.
This commission, as much as any, has been this teacher for me. It has showed me how the expectations I place on myself have a tender line between pushing me forward and stifling me to a hault. First of all, the size was off-setting, I found the larger than usual canvas with no laid out plan quite intimidating. I had developed a loose idea of a series of figures, concepts of interdependence, it was sticking…but how to portray it brought confusion. How do I create a composition, a story, the right colours to make this work?
I had ideas flowing in and out, but I doubted every single one of them. I would develop a loose idea of what to do, sketch it out and then abandoned it. I took one idea to the canvas, but it wasn’t feeling right, so I abandoned it again. Rinse, repeat. I took breaks and focused on smaller simpler projects. I bought a house. I went into isolation. I stayed home with sick kids. I took on other tasks. I made my way through he chaos of the wildly changing world around me and within, as the pandemic dragged on. I put the painting away for weeks at a time. Frustrating, no doubt, but my Taurus nature had me determined to come out of this on top.
Eventually an idea was forming, and sticking around, reminding me of itself every now and then. Upon purchasing the Art House I was swimming in all kinds of self-doubt that come along with the act of leaping beyond comfort zones. This idea was no exception, except it was sticking around despite the scepticism. Those little persevering ideas that just keep showing up are the special ones, the ones to pay attention to.
I sketched it out and hesitantly showed it to my husband. Not unlike the first time I showed him the listing for the Art House, his response surprised me. He showed excitement, investment. Even more, I sensed his faith in me and this idea, and wanted to see it come to life. This, I suppose, is one reason we get married. For those little moments when we have lost our mojo, our partner notices, picks it up and hands it back to us. So we can keep going. And so, that’s what I did.
Meanwhile, the pandemic... The political upheavals. The weight of collective fatigue. Those beckoning rabbit holes. The tension of fear driving it all. I was feeling it all, around me and within me. I was learning what balance needed to look like for me and my closest. I was trying to do it while honouring my needs without completely isolating myself from my community. This looks like a lot of things, and each day is different. Some days all we can do is hug our knees to our chest with our eyes closed in order to feel even an ounce of safety. Other days, we stand clear in our pillar of strength and create music that permeates our walls for others that need to hear it. But in it all, regardless of whether we are tuned inward or outward, I am learning the importance of connection. Connection to our higher selves and also to that of others.
Again and again, I always come back to the purpose in self-regulation. Creating inner harmony by owning the accountability for my response to the world outside of me, so that I can maintain greater peace within. Because this is when I feel most in power, regardless of what is happening around me. And when I can stand still within, I am the influencer to the immediate world around me, not the other way around. Some days take all my attention for myself, and other days I have some to give, but the process is about creating a balance, and simply doing the best we can with what we have, always growing forward.
Meanwhile, the importance of community has never been shown to me more clearly. It took a great contrast of it being stripped from our arms to really understand how important intimate connection is. The ways we have been challenged in isolation, the toll on our hearts and mental health is felt at a visceral level, and then statistically. Could anyone else see this? Do they feel it as intensely as I do? I was observing it all around me. I was having conversations with others. I was noticing how different the days where I connected with someone felt from those periods of no contact outside of my house.
Part of me refused to settle. I had visions and dreams that wouldn’t be tamed by external circumstances. Sure, I had to make adjustments…..many, many adjustments. But at the same time I think these experiences were driving the vision further. With the Art House, with the community-building, with the artwork. So as you can guess, it wasn’t a smooth journey to the end of this painting. It was a struggle, just as making it through the year was. I hit many lows, I faced relentless frustrations, and oh boy, was I peppered with doubt, so much doubt.
Just as equally, I experienced beautiful synchronicities, deepened connections, and even began to celebrate myself. I took on the strategy to approach this painting a little bit each time I set foot in the studio, one step at a time. And, in reflection, I can see this is how I coped in life too. There began a slow steady stream of confidence building. It is subtle, but I have evidence. There is a deeper understanding of where my power comes from, and a resilience that has grown through all I have faced, individually and within all my units. I trust this will expand, in time, outward to the larger circles around me. It has been quite a storm.
Is this not all our journey, in some way? Somersaulting our way through the challenges of being human, independently and co-dependently, a lifetime of fine-tuning the balance between the two? At times, catapulted into extreme situations to teach us how to appreciate what we have by the contrast of trying life without for a period of time? And perhaps teaching us how to be without the things that we thought we needed more than we do? Somehow knowing that our greater freedom lies somewhere in this recipe?
Many lessons have come from this process and it is quite something to see it all represented in an image before me. If this same image took me a month I don’t think it would carry the same energy. My journey, our journey is embedded in all it’s layers which required the pace of a full year to fully encompass it all. It took a lot of patience. Change. Ebbs and flows. Challenges in between, each with a lesson to incorporate along the way. I can feel this one in ways I don’t even understand. And it continues to teach me.
When it came to reveal time, I was ready to release it to its forever home. I invited the client into my studio and nervously showed her to it. I had been struggling in confidence that week, and when I become self-critical I tend to take it out on my paintings, struggling to find their beauty, only seeing what I think is wrong with them. This painting was no exception, as I questioned many of the decisions I had made in finishing it. But in that moment, as I stood there beside its new owner, something happened.
She stood there silently, consumed with emotion. She said it was perfect, and beyond what she could imagine. She told me I was special. As I stood beside her also taking in the painting, it began to transform before my eyes. I swear the colours became brighter and more vivid. The figures drew closer as if tempting to jump off the surface of the painting. The image came to life and I could now feel the energy emanating from it. As it’s beauty unleashed itself, I started to fall in love with it too.
It is my hope that with the art I create, each person finds a way to relate in their own way. Especially this one, as it seems to represent a globally shared experience. I have my version, which contains my personal journey and that of which I intuited of the world around me. Anyone I have shared this painting with seems to resonate instantly. But I cannot claim their experience in how they relate, nor will I take responsibility.
This is where art, for me, carries an innate power. The viewing is where I take a step back, removing myself from their experience with the painting as they take it in. I only offer my insight when asked. This exchange can be a beautiful and vulnerable way of connecting with someone, connecting with a painting deeply together is like finding someone who can articulate an experience you are going through as their own. You know that feeling right?
“You get me.”
To be seen provides moments of respite between the long bouts of treading the sea of self-doubt. As the artist, I may be the luckiest in such an exchange. Perhaps the one who finds the most relief, as I stand and witness a viewer picking up my intention behind a creation. A token of validation, building on other little wins, feeding the process as I trudge along.