I’m at a bit of a loss for words when it comes to describing this piece of art.
I think a surrealist influence is probably obvious, but there’s a bit more to it than that. Another influence has been my recent interest in lines and shapes, and how they may become meaningful symbols in the art we create. Is it something deliberate, the result of conscious choices we make? Or can the symbolism appear on its own through some almost metaphorical subconscious process? I don’t know.
The actual genesis of this weird artwork is a class taught by Tracy Verdugo titled “Stories of a She-Tribe“. This is a free class that can be accessed by visiting her website and signing up for her newsletter. While I found the class very interesting, I also found it extremely difficult in many ways. It was difficult because it’s largely a matter of watching her “feeling my way around.” That’s something that can’t be easily demonstrated; it’s too personal to be taught in an online tutorial.
“Stories of a She-Tribe” begins with a very personal experience in Ms. Verdugo’s life. She relates the experience in terms of sisterhood, having a strong support system of women around her, the idea of finding our tribe and knowing our role as women.
For me, it’s a somewhat difficult topic, and because my personal experiences are not the same as hers, I was somewhat at a loss from the start. Truly it was fascinating to hear her story and to follow along through her process of creating a meaningful work of art, but again, because this involves personal experience there is no single path to follow. At best, I could only take her ideas as suggestions on where to go and how to get there.
But, isn’t that what I need to be doing? Isn’t that what we, as artists, all yearn for? Not a cut-and-dried, one-size-fits-all, do-this-and-then-do-that approach, but a process that gently nudges us to go deep inside our psyche, find whatever is there, and allow it to spill out into our creation?
Fascinating, yes. Interesting, yes. Difficult, extremely so.
The process began by looking at illustrations of women, their faces, their bodies, their expressions. After a time, we wrote a poem to put down our thoughts. I won’t share my poetry here. It is personal, but I felt that was an important aspect of this project. I viewed it as another part of my very personal “art therapy”.
The words we wrote are actually on art, but they’re covered up, hidden from view by layers of paint and bits of paper. Honestly, I don’t see that anything in my drawing correlates to anything in my poetry — which expressed a lot of anger — but at this point in the project, I was enjoying what I was doing, at least in the initial stages.
I wasn’t happy with the collage part of the project. Ms. Verdugo used thin paper napkins which created an almost translucent quality. I used scrapbook papers, and I didn’t care for the colors. They were all I had, so I used them.
This is what I’ll call the “technical part” of the project. There were fairly specific instructions on writing, painting, and pasting. But then we came to the “personal part”, and any sense of direction flew right out the window.
It was a process of searching for hidden things — faces, especially. We turned out page this way and that, looking for something to emerge. Finding a central figure seemed to be the important thing, so I grabbed a pencil and began sketching in a face. I wasn’t too happy with it. I couldn’t seem to find any other faces, but I drew in two more and then struggled to find ways to connect those faces and heads to bodies.
In time, I did begin to see the central female figure almost as a bird-like creature spreading her wings. Again that had nothing to do with my surface feelings or with the poem I had composed. But was it my subconscious speaking? I had no choice but to trust what I was doing.
By this point, following along with Ms. Verdugo was no longer an option. Her work and my work were going in different directions. She saw what she saw. I saw what I saw. I shrugged and set off on my own path, going over my pencil lines with a Sharpie, exaggerating the strange forms of the bodies, allowing their feet to melt into the earth, and just splashing on bits of gansai, adding a few marks, and wondering all along about the symbolism that this piece holds.
No matter how much time I spend looking at this, I can’t interpret it. I can’t say “These lines mean…” or “I chose these shapes to show…” Yet the strange thing is that I do believe the piece — as weird as it is — does say something. I just haven’t got a clue about what it’s actually saying.