Recently I read an article about conceptual artist and sculptor Niki de Saint Phalle. She was best known for the oversized female forms she created, such as her famous Nanas.
Although these voluptuous statues serve a larger purpose — exploring the role of women in society — they share a common theme with de Saint Phalle’s other artwork. In a word, they can be described as playful. All of her works carried important messages about feminine power, yet were created by playful means and playful methods.
I think it would be impossible to view any of her creations without thoughts of playfulness coming to mind.
Soon after reading about de Saint Phalle and viewing pictures of her work, I stood at my easel with brush in hand. I was about to tone a few canvases — part of my daily art routine. The previous day I had played around a lot while sploshing watered-down acrylic paint on canvas panels. I’d had fun, tried a few different things, and I’d enjoyed that lovely feeling that — with toning canvases, at least — I could do no wrong.
If you’ve read much of this blog, you’re already aware that I often advocate playing with paints, and I’ve shared my husband’s philosophy that “If it’s not fun, don’t do it.” I think it’s good for us to approach art without taking ourselves too seriously.
Whenever I read about famous artists, famous paintings, or famous art movements, I want to broaden my knowledge. I tend to go for what I call total immersion when I’m reading, looking for ways to plunge into the pages and experience it all first-hand. It’s exciting with fiction; it’s fun with art books. In reading about art, I’m inspired, I’m curious, and I want to try it all.
So after toning a few canvases, I contemplated playfulness. Perhaps I should create a very playful painting. A fun idea, right?
It immediately felt wrong — for me. I love seeing playful art created by other artists. I love whimsical, brightly-colored creatures. I love hodgepodges of shapes and patterns. I love designs that are big and bold. I love playfulness, but that’s not what my art is about.
Niki de Saint Phalle was playful, and that single word could be applied to all she did. But I don’t want to be a playful artist. It’s not who I am; it’s not what I want to do.
Which thought, of course, led to the next: What one word would best describe my art?
It didn’t take long for me to come up with a word.
As I look around at the paintings I’ve created over the last two years, reflection is a thread running through them all. I’ve painted scenes from childhood, quiet lakes, still waters, pathways leading into the woods. I’ve captured places where I’ve found peace, places where I’ve taken long walks, places where I’ve spent time contemplating the world around me.
I like the word, and I want to claim it as my own form of creative expression. We’re often taught not to put labels on ourselves — or others — but I’m happy to label myself as an artist whose works speak of reflection.
It’s a theme that’s long been part of who I am, and I can see that clearly now as I look back not only at paintings I’ve made but photographs I’ve taken over the years like the one of a leaf in a puddle of water.
Yes, I am an artist, and I can now define my art in a single word. Reflection. It feels right. I like it, and going forward, I think this new understanding will lead me in the directions I need to go. It will guide me toward the roads I’m meant to travel.