Susan Hellewell
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Susan Hellewell, Bearing Witness: Bombed MSF Hospital, Aleppo, Syria, acrylic on canvas, 20 x 24 in., 2017.

In 2017, I was newly retired from teaching and blissfully working on abstract paintings. Listening to the radio, images of a war-ravaged Syria and people desperately trapped in Aleppo were superimposed onto my perceptions of the reality before me. I was compelled to paint scenes from Aleppo on top of the abstract patterns of the fascia of life. Through the transparent layers in the Aleppo series I was trying to capture how the media images of unimaginable suffering that we carry in our hearts and minds, are juxtaposed with the reality of our seemingly tranquil lives. Our lives, which carry on moving forward, are represented by the gold figures. Now, here we are in 2024, our conscious minds veiled with more images of bombed-out hospitals and beyond-imaginable suffering.

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Susan Hellewell, Bearing Witness: Evacuation Buses, Aleppo, Syria, acrylic on canvas, 20 x 24 in., 2017.

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Susan Hellewell, Bearing Witness: Escape by Sea, Aleppo, Syria, acrylic on canvas, 20 x 24 in., 2018.

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Susan Hellewell, Bearing Witness: Grieving Daughter, acrylic on canvas, 10 x 12 in., 2024.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Arthur Nichols
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Arthur Nichols, There’s a Cloud Around Your Heart, graphite on paper, 9 x 12 in., 1994.

There’s a Cloud Around Your Heart is a simple visual idea about unhappiness, revealing the self-same phenomenon of the brain, and the mind-body connection.

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Arthur Nichols, Goldfinch Dream, watercolor and graphite on paper, 9 x 12 in., 2023.

The male goldfinch is very territorial, as are many male birds. His presence with the sleeping woman keeps her safe, or as Teal Swan might say, “Contained” . . . maybe. Deep instinct, or b.s.? How does our species conceive of itself, and how does that concept manifest in contemporary society? How does that idea square with science? Psychology?

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Arthur Nichols, The Well of Zamzam 3, watercolor and graphite on paper, 17 x 14 in., 2023.

I often explore deeply hidden issues, thoughts, or concepts by taking a shot at interpreting very old stories wherein there are often basic human ideas represented. This is part of the story of Hagar and Ishmael, the consort of Abraham and their son (illegitimate half-brother to Isaac), as they were abandoned in the desert. An oasis and well manifested there, and is called even today the well of Zamzam, located in modern Saudi Arabia.

Fifth of Six

Arthur Nichols, Fifth of Six, acrylic, graphite, and embroidery thread on canvas, 2015.

I am the fifth of six children in my family, so this is something of a self-portrait, Portrait of the Artist as a Twinkle in SOMEONE’S Eye. How does one conceive of one’s conception? I reckon I dug into my unconscious for this one. I had a “framework”: my series of Sangha paintings, and one thing led to another. I took hints from earlier iterations of Sangha painting concepts and used them to explore the union of feminine and masculine, entirely amateur on my part, because I really had spent little time beyond pondering a beginning. At some point in the process, I began to identify with what was emerging. This has happened before, so it actually felt comfortable at the start. As things progressed, I ran the gamut of dismay, distress, disbelief, humor, bravery, and self-teasing. All in a day’s (month’s) work . . .

 

Wendy Newbold-Patterson

Consideration of the action of the unconscious in my own work has been eye-opening. I see evidence of the unconscious in my drawing, painting, poetry, music, and in dreams. I do not always intend or expect a specific outcome but rather seek energy or presence. Frequently, work might suddenly reveal something beyond my intent or expectation. I welcome it when I recognize it. The working principles that guide me are, “I draw what I see, I see what I drew, I say what I saw.” I admit I do not always see what I saw until much later. Your question has provoked me to look for the art of shadows.

My drawing method for “starters” uses broad brush calligraphic movements with watercolor and ink on good paper. Similar to Willem de Kooning, I like to watch paint dry. Something is revealed through a conversation with the paper. I continue the conversation with calligraphy (sign) brushes or pencil. Some reveal a mystery, quite peculiar and sometimes frightening. Good or bad, I tend to save them and return to some drawings because the image may reappear and offer a door that I can open and explore. I just finished reading Steppenwolf by Herman Hesse. Art can be like a “magic theater door” into our own psyche.

Another source of conversation with the unconscious is observation and drawing from nature. Connections and echoes are recognized between the seen and unseen worlds through the act of drawing, painting, or constructing, becoming expressive language for the unconscious.

Beast and His Henchmen

Wendy Newbold Patterson, The Beast and His Henchmen, oil on linen, 24 x 32 in., 2021 (photo: Jay York).

The Beast and His Henchmen was created during the COVID years. It frightens me still. It is part of The Green Child Story—an Artbook for the Child Within.* Access to the “child within” is a path to experience one’s own unconscious through myth, play, and imagination.

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Wendy Newbold Patterson, Trackless Woods, oil, cold wax, wood, rice paper, 12 x 24 in., 2017 (photo: James Allen Walker).

Trackless Woods is from the time of a personal health challenge. Confined, I looked to the forest around my home and peered into the unknown. The title is from the music of Iris Dement who sang the poetry of Anna Akhmatova. Akhmatova’s life and poetry during the Stalin era also reflected in ominous signs what I saw in front of me. The figure is vulnerable, stepping into the unknown.

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Wendy Newbold Patterson, The Queen at 3 a.m., encaustic and trace prints, 10 x 14 in., 2013 (photo: James Allen Walker).

The Queen at 3 a.m. is my echo to Alberto Giacometti’s The Palace at 3 a.m.. He is the master; I am the student. I was working with tangrams at the time and found that simple abstracted shapes had the power to be highly suggestive, even of dreams, elusive figments, or fragments of something tantalizing and yet unattainable. The translucent beeswax and rice paper trace the print’s irregular texture upon the image surface. I, too, am permeable to the seen and unseen, the dark and the light. Insomnia sometimes brings it home.

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Wendy Newbold Patterson, I Hear Whispers, encaustic and trace prints, text, 2013 (photo: James Allen Walker).

I Hear Whispers is a mystery. Typewritten texts from Walt Whitman’s poetry are embedded in the image. “I hear whispering there, O stars of heaven” and “Toss sparkles of day and dusk on the faces of men and women.” The wax, gritty imagery, and poetry wove themselves together into a mystery I look at with new eyes. It still remains a mystery.

I have drawn and painted human figures for fifty-four years. It is my vocabulary, my language, my voice. The relevance of the human figure in the expression of the unconscious is through access to the lifetime of learned skills, enabled by intuition. I am permeable. I am not alone.

 

Hadriane Hatfield

“You know, he had a heart condition” is an abstraction of anti-Black, anti-fat dog whistles heard in courtrooms, read in papers, and seen before news cameras. It is a response to the pattern of blaming murder victims who are Black and fat for their own deaths. It is a response to the insidious mainstream acceptance of this phenomenon.

In a 2014 CNN interview, U.S. Representative Peter King expressed his gratitude that the grand jury had not indicted Officer Daniel Pantaleo for the death of Eric Garner because, “If [Garner] had not had asthma and a heart condition and was [sic] so obese, almost definitely he would not have died from this.”[1] In the 2021 trial of Derek Chauvin, Hennepin County Medical Examiner Andrew Baker testified that George Floyd’s underlying heart condition and use of fentanyl contributed to his death.[2] Theorist and abolitionist Da’Shaun L. Harrison describes how, in addition to Floyd and Garner, the sizes and Blacknesses of Mike Brown, Tamir Rice, Walter Scott, Samuel DeBose, and Alton Sterling similarly shaped their violent deaths and the rhetoric that followed. Harrison writes:

There is a belief that fat Black people—in these cases, men—are supposed to withstand alarming amounts of pain, so much so that they can even survive being choked. Or, as an alternative, that whether or not they can survive the pain doesn’t matter so long as they suffer it. This is why the officer didn’t care that Garner couldn’t breathe. The words “I can’t breathe” didn’t register as a warning because, to the officer, they were only proof of life. While “I can’t breathe” became a rallying cry for Black people around the country, it became a slogan that officers around the country mocked with great pride—as if they were celebrating their best and latest kill, as though the officers’ intent was to antagonize the animals that roamed the streets angrily before they made their next kill.[3]

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Hadriane Hatfield, You know, he had a heart condition, acrylic and collage on paper, 8.5 x 14 in., 2021

The white hegemonic mainstream is obsessed with its own innocence to the point that its unconscious is constantly searching for justification for violence endured by (in this case) Black people. Because anti-fatness is still a relatively acceptable[4] form of discrimination, we “Good Whites” feel relieved to learn that this Black man who endured horrific violence is/was also fat. “Of course it is horrific and unconscionable that he was brutalized because he is Black,” the Good White thinks, “but he was Black and also fat. It is the fat that made him unhealthy that made him dead. It is the fat that made him scary that made him dead.” The Good White unconscious knows it is bad to be racist, and so clings to anti-fatness to continue to locate blame in the body of the innocent, thus avoiding culpability and responsibility.

Harrison argues that liberation requires something “beyond abolition.”

At the root, liberation must mean cultural revolution as well as a destruction of the sociopolitical institutions that hold these systems in place, which means that abolition cannot be the end; it must only be the beginning . . . the end goal must be a complete destruction of the World itself—whereby I mean that the World only exists because anti-Black, capitalist, cis-heteropatriarchal systems of violence and domination exist and therefore must, itself, be destroyed.[1]

In Kiese Laymon’s introduction to Belly of the Beast, he writes, “The fat Black folks who love us are the world. Those fat Black folks, responsible for the most abundant and trifling parts of us, are worthy of the most exquisite destruction. And we are worthy of being tenderly destroyed by them.”[2]

[1] Inae Oh, “Rep. Peter King Blames Chokehold Death on Eric Garner’s ‘Obesity,’” Mother Jones 4 December 2014.

[2] Jacob Gershman, Erin Ailworth, and Joe Barrett, “In Derek Chauvin Trial, Medical Examiner Says George Floyd’s Heart Couldn’t Handle Restraint,” The Wall Street Journal 9 April 9 2021.

[3] Da’Shaun L. Harrison, Belly of the Beast: The Politics of Anti-Fatness as Anti-Blackness (Berkeley: North Atlantic Books, 2021), 64.

[4] (at least to the white hegemonic mainstream)

[5] Harrison, Belly of the Beast, 107.

[6] Kiese Laymon, foreword to Belly of the Beast: The Politics of Anti-Fatness as Anti-Blackness by Da’Shaun L. Harrison (Berkeley: North Atlantic Books, 2021), ix.

 

 

 

 

Image at top: Susan Hellewell, Bearing Witness: Bombed MSF Hospital, Aleppo, Syria, acrylic on canvas, 20 x 24 in., 2017.