My Brother Was “the artist in the family”

Daily Prompt: What’s your favorite way to express yourself, creatively?

Only non artists “express themselves.” Artists do what they cannot help doing and no amount of pressure from inside or outside will stop them. In a sense, I now feel there’s nothing LESS relevant than self-expression. Anything we do will express who we are, and in ways we probably don’t even understand. This painting, for example, of cornflowers. I seriously set out ONLY to paint cornflowers, still, they couldn’t have been painted this way by anyone else.

Oil on panel. A bee actually tried to land on the painted flowers, so I knew I had the color right.

Cornflowers

***

I started my adult life (college) as an art major. The thing is, my mom strenuously disapproved of this and made sure it didn’t happen. I majored in English because, in my family, well, here’s the story.

Abstract Expressionism Christmas 1981. Denver, snow on the ground. Clear, still, silent, star-lit. Kirk and I take a walk after dinner. My brother is an artist living in the moment of grand opportunities. A visit to his apartment in Colorado Springs requires painting animation cells for a feature length fully animated film, Leafy Wanders in Space, Leafy being my brother’s two-dimensional alter ego. This year, his wife and daughter are having Christmas dinner at his mother-in-law’s house. His father-in-law hates him and once went after him with a shotgun, so Kirk is with my mom and me.

I’m a visual artist, too, something I was never supposed to bring up, acknowledge, admit to, or otherwise claim as an aspect of my identity. It is OK if I write, but if pencil hits paper and drags behind it a line that does not turn into a word, I have overstepped my boundaries. One summer afternoon my grandmother Kennedy upset everyone by proclaiming, “Martha Ann is the REAL artist in the family!”

Artistic vision is highly individual, but still artists can be competitive, and my brother is even though our work is completely different. He is primarily a cartoonist; his other work is illustration. He loves book illustrations of the ’30’s, the work of Howard Pyle and Disney’s cell animation. He believes in studying anatomy in order to draw the human figure then carefully rendering the proportions with a pencil or crow-quill pen on Bristol board. I believe in grabbing a conté crayon, looking directly at naked people and capturing the life behind the flesh in gleefully drawn gesture drawings on rough newsprint.

Earlier that year — much to his horror — I had a one man show of my paintings, mostly gouache on paper, flat paint, flat surfaces; figure paintings of headless bodies. I sold two before the show opened and more at the show bringing in a few thousand bucks. I thought that was pretty good for a one shot deal. It was more than I’d made from writing. “The thing is, you’re an abstract expressionist,” he says suddenly. I do not know what that is. Anyway, I had moved from painting to linoleum cuts. I didn’t have very good tools, but I use what I have and have a lot of fun. I am about to have more fun because, in the next few days, I will get better tools and my brother will teach me how to sharpen them. He smokes a pipe; it keeps his hand warm inside his coat pocket. His hair is short and curled; he is clean-shaven, lean and very handsome. He is my best friend.

The snow crunches as we walk. I talk to him about art and everything I am thinking. It was during those days that I got the idea that art and god were some how entwined. We laugh. “Well, Martha Ann,” he says, “if you’re looking for God, you need to play Black Sabbath backward at 78. And you need to get some emery paper, honey.” Hilarious and deeply profound. The search for god has always involved arcane and absurd ritual (like listening to Black Sabbath backward at 78) and the sharpening of tools, the perfecting of craft. Well, there it was.

Fafner - work based on a dress and pendant I had as a college student, my short career as an artist's model, and a guy who took photos of me after a modeling session

Fafner

Oil on panel, metallic paint (fun) Based on a night I spent in Munich.

Danae

Learning to paint reflections -- the waterfall near my house. Oil on canvas, sold last year.

Descanso Falls

Mysterious painting that came from godnose where. Oil on panel.

The World is Out There

Ironically (or is it?) I have made all of $150 from my writing. I’ve made several thousand from my painting and my work has been in several juried shows. Still and all, none of this (thank you mom!) has been done “for” money. The best thing she ever did was abuse me out of following my dream. Sometimes having a dream is more necessary to life, to survival, than living the dream.  And at this point in my life, understanding that self-expression is inevitable, I try to express more than just myself. After all, part of my SELF is my relation to the world. Any real art is a journey beyond the self into a larger world. I’ve learned this in both my writing and my painting. It might be Ariadne’s thread.

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2014/04/05/daily-prompt-express-yourself/