Make It Big

Chairlift PaintingI just finished another new painting. It’s huge, 48” x 48”, so it’s taken me a while. Maybe you remember me talking about it before, before-before, and before-before-before.

It’s big. I’ve only ever painted one, maybe three, that are larger. The largest one I ever made was 48” x 108”. It was back in my college days. I still remember…

I had this teacher. His name was Steve. I do not remember his last name; but I remember he was bald and I thought he was totally cool. He wasn’t like my other art teachers who looked mopey, like they prefered sleeping in the daytime and working at night, who made each sentence a question, who spoke in whispers, and had scraggley hair. Steve was bossy, and loud, and round, and funny.

I paint from photographs. I always have. At the time I had this photograph of the view off the deck at my mom’s house in New Jersey. In the photograph it’s winter. You can’t see the railing on the deck, but you can see the black tiki lamp that is attached to it, and the Christmas lights that are strung from the tiki lamp. You can see the creek that my mom lives on and the icy, baren trees on the other side of the creek. It’s a clear winter day so the sky is blue.

One day in Steve’s class I painted a 4” x 6” (postcard size) painting of this photograph. I was in between projects; and I think there is something cute, and treasure-like, about painting tiny paintings. Steve came over and was like, “What the hell is this crap? I can’t believe you’re wasting your time painting this stupid size painting. That photo and the idea are interesting and you are whithering them down to some shit that no one is going to care about. I’m really pissed-off. This should be way bigger.”

“How big?”

“Massive…as big as you can make it.”

“OK.”, I said, but what I was thinking was, “OK asshole, you’re about to get the biggest painting I can build even if it takes me the rest of the semester and you’re going to be impressed, and have to eat your words.”

As this story goes on I build three large canvas, the painting becomes a triptych, my style of working with spray paint and oil paint are born, and I earn Steve’s momentary respect as well as that of my classmates. Since then I have never painted quite so large again. While it is true that a painting of that magnitude is quite impressive, it can also be quite a nuisance to a young artist without a home (and permanent large wall of her own) and/or proper means to sell said-large painting. Luckily, my grandparents never minded me turning their home into a museum featuring The Retrospective of Sarah.

Steve taught me the reality of working large. I taught myself the (un)practicality in working large.

Back to the new painting.

It may not look like it, but it’s been one of the most challenging paintings I’ve completed yet. The challenge comes not from some obvious element like, Four square feet painted with a brush so small you can only see it with a microscope!, or Painted entirely with my eyes closed while standing on one leg! The challenge came from having an image that I wanted to paint, and a particular style that I wanted to use. As I worked through the painting I realized that characteristics produced by the technique were not congruent with the characteristics of the photograph that I loved most. Although I am pleased with the finished product, it is far from where I had initially dreamed it would be. I am most pleased with the painting because it is finished. I am content in the fact that I did not get frustrated and abandon it. In fact, the middle of the process had me erase and begin again. Eradication and Restart are both difficult processes; and through them I have learned and my painting is stronger.

Swiss Chairlift

The initial idea for the composition came from a photograph, taken by my husband, with his iphone, while on our ski trip in Switzerland. His photograph perfectly captures bright sunlight radiating over a hillcrest, with an array of ski tracks carved through fluffy snow, and a chairlift in the upper corner. This composition appealed to me because I could still paint a chiarlift (that’s what I do) but focus on another darling aspect of winter sports…fresh tracks.

My favorite parts my painting are its size, shape, and colors. I created the color of the ski tracks by combining three different colors of spray paint. This is the first time I have mixed spray paints. It is also the first time I have experimented with a glitter spray paint. I am pleased with the dimension it gives the shapes in various lighting. While I may not have translated all of the delicacies of light (and dark) in the initial image, I have celebrated the liveliness of the sport, the strength of the lines in the snow, and somehow managed to tap into an expression of lines, and corners, and curves that remind me of tribal elements that I enjoy in Aztec, African, and Indian Art. This was not a fete that I was prepared for in the beginning, but it is something to be embraced in the end.

This is the first of my paintings that, I feel, possesses a valuable quality beyond that which the eye can see. Now that I know what that quality looks like, and feels like, (to me) I can see its presence in other areas of my life as well.

Appreciation is renewed. Thanks be to Art.