I remember once someone asking my brother, who is a painter, to explain one of his paintings.
“This is what it means,” he said, gesturing to the painting. “I don’t have anything else to say about it.”
Even though artists are expected to create artist statements and deconstruct their own work, art is art because that’s what it is.
I make art because the art expresses something I can’t express in words.
The image is the meaning
You may have noticed that my art journal pages look similar. I tend to go over the same territory over and over again.
This isn’t something I think about, it’s something my hands do.
I paint the feminine
I have created exactly two paintings that portray a male image (the Christ).
There’s a third on the way - it keeps coming into my mind’s eye, so I expect to see it on the canvas soon.
But mostly, I paint women.
Sometimes people ask me why, or ask me if I ever plan on painting the divine masculine, or request that I do.
And sometimes I hear something in this request that sounds a bit like an accusation.
It sounds like men feeling left out.
When I was a young pink-haired budding feminist, my work took a different form and attitude.
I worked in black and white self-portrait photography with confessional text panels.
I remember hearing this response from a male friend: You seem like you’ve been hurt by men.
Though I’m certain it wasn’t his intention, what this person communicated to me about my work was that he didn’t consider it to be valid. He was dismissing it as a personal vendetta against men.
What I was talking about in that series was the patriarchy, my experience as a woman, and female sexuality. It had nothing to do with individual men.
My painting is devotional
but it is also artistic expression
My work says something just as all artwork says something.
Perhaps it says something similar to the thing my early work was trying to say - the same thing the prints I made in graduate school were trying to say - about what it feels like to be a woman within a patriarchal system.
At this moment in time, in this country, women are living with the reality of men repeatedly and and openly admitting to rape, sexual harassment, misogyny, and violence toward women, yet still elected to our highest offices, our courts of justice.
We are told that a young man holding his hand over a young woman’s mouth so she can’t scream while he attempts to rape her is normal male behavior that should be forgiven.
Women are blamed for being attacked, then blamed for not speaking out about the attacks, then blamed when we speak out.
Am I angry about this?
Of course, I am.
Do I hate men?
No. I don’t.
In fact, I love men.
I love the interplay between men and women.
I love exchange of ideas and sparks of attraction and sexual chemistry and the beauty of wholeness.
I am all about the sacred feminine and the divine masculine in unity
I am not attempting to erase gender or sex.
I am not attempting to exclude non-binary or trans people.
I wouldn’t have the ability to that even if I wanted to.
My paintings aren’t the world.
My paintings are medicine
My paintings are something hidden coming to light
They are not only about my personal relationship to femininity and spirit. They are also about my religion - an Abrahamic religion that has been told, interpreted, manipulated, and viewed through the lens of the patriarchy.
(The ministry of Jesus flew in the face of the patriarchy. Its mission was to break apart and disassemble the hierarchy of oppression. The Church has not traditionally valued or respected women, but the gospel of Christ does.)
My paintings are a way for me to give voice to my faith -
to my religion within myself; a way to connect to the sacred feminine, the women of this tradition, the story of women, the voices of women, the female phoenix rising again and again and again out of the ashes of destruction; a way of tapping into the dream of our collective future.
My paintings aren’t about men, and maybe this makes some men feel uncomfortable.
But if I am exorcising anything with my work, it isn’t a hatred for men or the times I’ve been hurt by men.
If anything, I am exorcising a misplaced hatred for myself:
All the times I choked back on my truth, bent myself into impossible shapes, tried to be something I wasn’t in order to be accepted, believed myself to be stupid or of no value, looked in the mirror and called myself ugly, despised the curve of my hip or the gap between my teeth.
All the times I allowed another person to take my power, to use my own heart against me.
The times I stayed with people who mistreated me, apologized for things that were not my fault, put up with emotional violence.
The times I sold myself short, didn’t believe in my abilities, counted myself out.
When I paint and the faces and figures begin to appear on the canvas, I am calling back to myself all the lost threads and pieces that have been scattered to the wind.
I am putting myself back together.
And it isn’t just for me.
It’s for all women.
All of us.
And for the sacred feminine that resides in men, as well.
We all have male and female within us
(and it is not only women who own my paintings.)
My paintings are prayers.
They are secrets.
They are deeply personal and navigate a terrain that belongs to me.
My Paintings are my voice
While I share them and hope they have a life beyond me, they are mine, born through me.
And maybe this makes some people uncomfortable because we still live in a world where it is off-putting for a woman to claim something and say, this is mine, this is how I do it, and I’m not really open to advice about how you wish I would do it differently.
All of this is not to make my work sound important on some grand scale.
The people who see it are the people who want to see it.
The people who want to own it find me.
I am saying something and I trust that the people who need or want to hear what I am saying, do hear it.
We are having a conversation.
We are sharing energy.
We are praying together.
I have written before about how sometimes people ask me why the women in my paintings are so serious, why they look sad, why they’re not smiling.
Just as a woman you pass on the street does not owe you a smile, my paintings do not owe a smile to me.
Despite what we have all been taught, a woman is whole human being with a full range of emotions.
It is okay for a woman to be angry, sorrowful, lamenting.
It is, as far as I can tell looking around this world we live in, appropriate.
Many of the fruits we eat in this life are bitter.
Many of the truths we must swallow are jagged and slice our flesh.
Many are the times women have labored and suffered and born the suffering of others in silence.
May paintings are a place where women don’t have to smile through it, put a happy face on it, look at the positive side, or make anyone else feel better.
My work is about freedom
Truly, my paintings are about freedom more than they are about anything else.
God, I believe, is about freedom.
Love is freedom
Freedom from constraint.
Freedom from misery.
The freedom to be one’s self completely - cherished, heard, and valuable, alive.
And those of us who make art are not so much inspired to do it as we are compelled to do it.
It is a part of our genetic make-up.
It is how we know who and where and what we are.
I have no idea if I will always paint women, but as I stated above, my artwork has always had the same heart running through it. It’s the same heart that beats in my chest.
I like it when people like what I do.
I like it when we meet somewhere we both recognize.
But I don’t make art in order to be liked.
Or even to be understood.
the work means what it means
It may sing a completely different song to you than the song it sings to me.
I think that’s beautiful.
It may sing nothing to you, and that’s okay, too.
It may bring you to questions like, “Why women? And why are they sad?”
Have I answered that question with this post?
Can it be answered?
Why am I doing this?
Why all these women?
The paintings are alive
They pass through here.
They show up and surprise me.
They are rarely, if ever, what I think they are going to be when I begin.
They are my witness.
I am theirs.
They hold things for me that my heart can’t withstand.
They say what I cannot
They whisper to me of the Book of Life, of another time, of a place we might be going, of a timelessness, of reconciliation, love lost, and dreams snuffed out, and hope.
So much hope.
They remind me that I am alive, and fully human in a world that tells me over and over again that I am not.
There has always been and there is now ample opportunity for men to be seen, heard, and considered.
I think it’s just fine that through the small vessel of me, over here on my tiny patch of land, it is woman who is seen, heard, and considered.
I don’t think that leaves anyone out.
I think it opens a door.
I would love to paint for you.
Or ask me questions about the work here.