Tuesday, May 25, 2010

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Lady

I think that's a bastardization of more than one Henry James title, but I will stand by it for this post.

I think I've mentioned this before, but, when I was five, I sat at the kitchen counter of my grandparents' house furiously coloring away with crayons. I expressed my intent to be an artist "when I grow up" and was met with scoffs from both my Uncle and Papa who told me I'd "never make any money at that." That scared me, even then.

In high school I had the privilege of attending a high school with a very intense arts program: Art Seminar was a two year program for Juniors and Seniors only, covering all manner of visual arts instruction, and culminated in a senior art show. I shared the space with my friend Drew, and together, we filled the place with our friends and family who came to see what we'd been working on.

Drew's piece de resistance was this really cool installation that consisted of a series of skulls painted on glass in old window frames.
I was asked to take down a sexually suggestive charcoal drawing of a mostly naked woman wearing lace gloves by school administration.
We also each sold quite a bit of work, which was really exhilarating and humbling.

So Freshman year of college, while I tried to figure out what I wanted to major in, saw me dabble as an Art major. I got accepted to the program Winter Term and then by Spring, had started my basic design classes.

And I hated it.
I got to produce some interesting work and it stretched the way I thought about materials and inspiration and design, and I loved the excuse my fall of sophomore year to take a drawing course that met for 3 hours at a time in a really relaxing, secluded studio space nestled in the trees on the edge of campus. I was getting better, technically, but I felt like I was wasting everyone's time because I wasn't particularly inspired by my fellow students or instructors, and more than anything, was learning I don't *think* like an artist. I could produce a craft with little or no emotional investment, and was very visually judgmental. So I switched to Political Science and never looked back.

Since graduation, I haven't completed a single painting, but I think my need for creative expression is desperately apparent (see: this blog, gusto with which I plan bridal showers, impulsive jewelry design hobby) and maybe more important to my identity than I'd previously given credit.

Much of my prior creations are framed around my parents' house or housed nearby with relatives, but, ever since my laptop crashed, I realized I'd lost a lot of work. Thinking about this loss made me a little panicky, so I analyzed my options and realized there was one last place I could maybe look...

Without getting into a big long story (not like I like those, or anything), once upon a time, a bunch of my favorite media pieces were submitted for me by Someone to an online arts community website, which happens to have been started by Benj Gershman from the band O.A.R. The site, and my relationship to Someone, are no longer functional in the way either once was, but I wondered if digital images of my work were stored somewhere in the depths of someone's, or Someone's, hard drives.

So I emailed Someone who told me, or rather, promised me, he didn't have them, but would do everything he could to track them down for me.

He kept me updated every couple weeks, letting me know he'd emailed Benj (who was on tour) and no luck yet, but, would keep looking into it for me.
I appreciated the effort, but, counted everything as lost.

But wow, did Someone ever deliver.

Last night, I got an email from him with about ten images of my old creations, forwarded to me from Benj, bless his heart. I was seriously choked up, and told my dad, who (sorry, Dad) got similarly emotional.

I replied today, and rather than summarize what I said, here it is, verbatim, because I think I really said what I meant:

"It hit me almost immediately WHY this recovery of lost things is so important to me, so I will try to articulate that to you.
As years pass, we all grow. We learn, we find new interests, we encounter new people who affect or influence us, and everything we interact with has the potential to change us as people. And change doesn't have to necessarily mean transform, but, it's like an addition of layers on top of what we have at our core. Our core can even shift sometimes, I imagine, but, what I am getting at is that we still carry those inner layers with us as part of our identity as we get older. Anyone who has met me in the last few years would have no idea that I am an artist. I wouldn't even use "am" anymore, due to the simple fact that I haven't regularly or passionately pursued visual art for years. But the fact that I was? That at a time in my life it wasn't only something I did, but really helped define me as who I was, that is enough to be a part of my "is", currently. Does that make sense?

And I guess I felt I'd lost a part of myself because, since I am not currently expressing as an artist (at least, not a visual one - writing is different), I have no proof - no record, really, of that history of my identity. I suppose there are still quite a few pieces at my parents' house, but, some of the ones you recovered for me I might never have seen again - effectively forever lost from myself, which was actually a scary prospect.

I don't know why I am so emotionally attached to that cut-out piece with the dogs and the train. It could be that I am still emotionally attached to the song of which it's representative ("The Trapeze Swinger" - Iron & Wine) or remembering the process of creating it: really learning to love and explore my independence, sitting alone at my dorm room desk freshman year of college, windows wide to the afternoon rain, enjoying my own company, cutting and gluing and processing and humming along to the aural art that had inspired the project in the first place. I wish I was better about getting myself back to that place, now, and maybe having this image around will remind me of that.

As far as the kiss painting, that image is so burned into me as a part of who I am, I could never forget it. I had separation anxiety from the actual canvas though, and I'm not sure if I told you this or not, but I actually went so far to track it down that I created a MySpace account a year-and-a-half ago for the express purpose of searching for the girl from my high school who bought it at my senior show. I found her (there's a lot of Sarah Browns in the world, let me tell you) and wrote her a clumy message that basically said, "Hi, You probably don't remember me, but, I think you bought a painting of mine for someone in your family at my senior art show back in high school. I am just writing to say that if it is in a basement somewhere, or hidden in a closet, or it has lost its appeal, I will buy it back from you for twice what you paid for it. But, if anyone at all is still enjoying it, please, by all means, feel no obligation to let me buy it back. I just wanted to know it has a safe place in the world."
And she wrote back a few days later saying, basically, thanks, but, it is now a permanent fixture in their home and there's pretty much no way her mother would part with it. That was totally enough for me.

Anyway, what I am getting at is that these images are not just images. They represent a whole lot more to me and are, in some cases, part of me and my history, and so, part of who I am now - but a part I thought I'd lost. Thank you for helping me reclaim it.
Please pass on my utmost gratitude to Benj (you can forward this even, if you want) for taking the time out of his day to actually sort through Lord only knows how much stuff to get to these, and then email them to you, who took the time out of YOUR days to contact him, and follow up with him, and follow up with me. It's just a truly lovely gesture on both of your parts - him, because he doesn't even know me. And you, because, well, you DO know me, and how I haven't been exactly generous (with grace or patience) in the last few years, so knowing our history, this was just something you really really really didn't have to do. But I'm terribly grateful that you did.

I think that more aptly explains why this hit me in the way that it did.


Sharpie sketches for a design piece
Assignment: using only black and white paper cutouts, create a visual representation of your favorite song.
Oil on canvas - inspired by my cousins; bought by my uncle
Oil on canvas; wedding present for friends.
Oil on canvas: purchased by my 1st grade teacher, who now has it framed in her stairwell, which brings me such joy.

My first oil on canvas, and the only one I ever regret selling.

I feel so much relief, and at peace, like after a reunion with estranged friends.


  1. I remember you making some of these freshman year, I'm so glad you got them back!!


  2. I remember all of those! "The kiss" was my favorite as well.x