Religion, astrology, and myths are all rich vehicles for storytelling and are an inspiration for my drawings. I believe that in human history, a function of these belief systems has been to make order out of chaos, and to find patterns and meaning in the seemingly random. Art is the act of creating form out of the ether.
Merely inhabiting our own human form can be viewed as a means of creating order from chaos, in that our eyes can see only so many colors, our ears can hear only so many sounds, our noses can detect only so many odors, and so forth. Our bodies create limits and boundaries and serve to funnel and register only certain incoming stimuli. But our spirits and souls yearn to connect with what lies beyond what our physical bodies can perceive, beyond this world of form. What lies beyond is the great inexplicable, which we perceive as chaos because it is as yet unformed. Perhaps chaos only exists as a concept for us while we are alive in these bodies. Perhaps there is really no such thing.
My paintings, New Beginnings and And So October Came represent my journey this year. I chose to take a path out of darkness to new beginnings. Nature prevails in my world with patterns, shapes, textures and the colors of rebirth. Using heavy-body acrylic paint, my tools included a palette knife as well as a brush to show the life force necessary to manage the chaos, maintain order in my life and expand my consciousness. Each painting emerges into peace, happiness, and bliss. These works are my catharsis as the sun reemerges to show nature’s beauty and truth. Nature prevails over chaos and brings comfort and order to the world.
Maximalism only intruded into my work when I kept adding to fix an error, followed by saying, “You screwed up. Go back.” As a painter of semi-abstract figures performing sports, who was brought to a hard stop in 2020, Maximalism became my stumbling first step back.
In 2020, we all moan over endless news of increasing illness and death, homelessness and food boxes. The only other topic is the election which generates more fright. Some listen to music we loved decades ago and attempt the old dances while breathing hard in masks. Back then we knew nothing.
My husband and I, like most of you, lived a normal, decent life, raised protest signs and marched. We supported schools, concerts, and institutions that benefit society. I buried my long-ago art until John said, “I’m taking a drawing class with Susan Tobey White in Belfast. Want to come?”
He learned to talk about composition and color, and welded farming gear into sculptures. In Russell Kahn’s adult ed pottery classes, John’s work was occasionally brilliant. Yet, I became the serious artist and he hauled boxes of my paintings to shows, measured placements, and ate hummus dip at openings. Then, in February 2020, after a massive stroke, he died.
A close cousin died of cancer in March. A good neighbor died of an aneurysm in April. A best friend spent the summer dying of cancer and finished the job by October. Maximalism.
My husband saved everything in our barns until dangerously crowded. I was an enabler, hoarding for sculptures we designed together. Then, after his death I frequented the recycling center and Goodwill. Even after moving my studio from an upstairs bedroom to easy access downstairs, I created nothing; shuffled papers and sharpened pencils and drew nothing; tore rags and sorted brushes and painted nothing. The function of any animal is to reproduce itself, and humans have been massively successful. But then what? Isn’t making art just filling time?
Or is what we create also a connection to other people, that social thing we have lost so much in 2020? Seven months after John’s death, I took a painting to River Arts gallery in Damariscotta and mentioned that I hadn’t been able to do any new work. A photographer waited outside to tell me that his wife had died five years ago, but her support of his work led to his survival through his art. He was giving me hope.
Then the Maine Arts Journal offered Maximalism, a concept completely removed from my work and requiring a concentration that morphed into meditation. In my usual way, I researched and sketched until an image burst into consciousness, with me never suspecting that conscious thought would disappear under rhythm and pattern. I use acrylics which is a gift in Maximalism because of acrylic’s #1 rule: paint over it. I don’t know how Maximalism might affect my future work and I don’t care. I am beginning. In 2020 it simply may be enough to organize chaos into design or even to give somebody else a path to hope.
Image at top: Martha Miller, Cornucopia, homemade natural inks on paper, 24 x 18 in.