My practice exists for the sole purpose of self-expression. It’s a space of personal exploration where I process a traumatic past and, at times, debilitating anxiety. I strive for clarity in the world and the relationships that have touched my life, whether past or present.
The stylings of my work have shifted and morphed as my art has progressed. I have learned to trust my instincts as I create, allowing myself the space to explore without judgment. This style of creating has led to moments of joy and deep pain, emotions that seem permanently tied to my psyche.
When I first began to delve into a personal exploration within my practice, I leaned heavily on the psychology of color. I was processing pain with brighter hues and creating a sense of absence by cutting and intertwining cyanotypes within the vivid shades. The inspiration for cutting the cyanotypes originally stemmed from my inability to picture my father’s face. He had died five years previously following a long and drawn-out illness. It was this absence that haunted my work. When I realized I couldn’t picture him completely, it devastated me. I began obsessively looking at old photos, printing and cutting his face. I was desperately trying to understand why I was losing him. In this desperation, I began thinking about family lines. Half of me is him. I have his nose. Does it matter if I can picture his nose in my mind if I can go and look in a mirror to see it? This question fascinated me. I began working on that first painting, Portrait of Dad, with that question in mind. It was a turning point in my life as an artist. It was the first piece that helped me overcome an immense internal struggle.
As my practice shifted, so did my exploration of materials and tools. I was yearning for a more tactile impression. I began testing the viscosity of paint and exploring a manifold of paint delivery tools and methods. Although paintbrushes have remained steadfast in my practice, piping bags, typically for frosting cakes, were quite handy as a paint-to-canvas delivery method. As I moved forward, this change from the controlled application of a colorant to a more abstract expression became paramount to my process. As I expanded, I removed the use of the cyanotype and focused my attention on layering oil paints in with acrylic. Oil was a more expressive experience, although more time-consuming. I also no longer needed to portray a sense of absence in the work. I was becoming more interested in excess and the creation of complex layerings. I didn’t want to become trapped in a void of absence. I needed to embrace the presence of all the complicated feelings we all feel daily.
As I was exploring the world of oil, I was also in the development stage with a technique of using dry paint as a buildable material rather than using it in its liquid form. I found something magical with the process of building off my canvas with a variety of dry paint and wire. I wanted to push this to the limit, but I needed to figure out how. I began experimenting with the raw components of acrylic paint, creating my paint with differing viscosity and textures. While struggling to understand my practice’s direction, I built wire and foam armatures instead of stretching canvas. I added shredded tires, glass balls, and beads to my paint. In effect, my paintings had morphed into sculptures.
It’s within this realm of sculptural painting that I exist today. I’m building paintings from sheets of dried paint divorced from a substrate. I am draping these “paint skins” over an armature to create a cocoon, if you will, of paint. This idea of a paint cocoon encapsulates everything that my studio represents. It’s the literal embodiment of a safe space for myself to explore the most private of memories and emotions. It’s a physical manifestation of human resiliency, a poem to survival.
Each piece can allow complete expression, uninhibited by a subject, leaving ample space for self-reflection as I build each piece. I let my sense of humor come through as I process emotions by adding found objects into the work. This process of collecting found items has allowed my art to again morph and allow a seemingly endless amount of inspiration.
I’m confident that my work will continue to alter as I continue working. This constant change allows me to process those difficult moments we all face. It allows me to reflect and contemplate my relation to all living things. It reminds me that I am not alone in the struggles I meet, and that with great empathy for others and a genuine and truthful understanding of myself, I can move forward in life. My work will always remain in flux, but my practice will always remain. It is a singular static that allows my understanding of a world filled with a dichotomy of both deep despair and wonderment.
Image at top: Libby Sipe, Hush, acrylic and oil on stretched canvas, 24 x 36 in., 2022.