Oil on Canvas
"Is the glass half empty or half full?" Most of us are familiar with this rhetorical proverb. The phrase is often asked as a litmus test to see one's worldview. It is a question that popped into my head last night as I listened to the nightly news. Story after story elevated my anxiety and slowly drained my hope. To remedy this, I found myself looking to nature and finding the strength to fill the glass with lessons of the budding trees and blooming flowers. It is out of winter they emerge.
Do you view the glass as half-full or half-empty? I hope you said "neither" — it's never good to see the world through a single filter. Artists must always figure out what they will paint and why. One role artists play in social change movements is to provide visuals for activists and create a cultural strategy to help shift the way people think about the world. Pop artist Andy Warhol, for example, introduced the idea of art not having to be about the big and powerful but rather the ordinary, mundane. He tapped into the cultural zeitgeist of the 1950s and 1960s by using recognizable images of consumer products, advertisements, and celebrities. He changed the world by making us question our throwaway and fickle society. His methods have been endlessly explored, challenged, and mimicked and have changed how we think about art and paintings. In 2016 Banksy created the 'Les Mis' Refugee Crisis. It is graffiti art that made a political statement questioning the power of people versus the government. Banksy's art changes the environments where it is placed, turning ordinary spots into tourist attractions: changing the world where these people live.
Similarly, Cindy Sheman depicts herself as a famous screen icon in Untitled Film Stills (1977-1980). She aligns identity with physical appearance, questioning the objectification of the female in contemporary society. While the world is full of problems and challenges, and I admire those that take the issues head-on, my work, today at least, takes a softer approach. It seeks to be the antidote for feeling overwhelmed and disconnected. In an attempt to connect with the senses both in the body and mind. It goes to places of travel and beauty to invoke a feeling that we are part of a global community but still rooted in the simple. One of the primary responsibilities of artists is to help people get to know and understand something with their minds and feel it emotionally and physically. By doing this, art can mitigate the numbing effect created by the glut of information facing us today. Perhaps art can even motivate people to turn thinking into doing. I am reminded of the powerful nature works by Georgia O'Keeffe. Her painting is close-up abstractions of flowers and the southwest landscape. She is credited as one of the leading figures in American Modernism. Her work represents a diversity of meanings; rather than stopping at pure representation, she blurs the boundaries between representation and abstraction. Like O' Keefe, I choose to use the world surrounding me as my subject. It is the environment that I am in that inspires me and lights me up, so that is what I paint. Looking at a painting I did of the Remmy towers in New York City in the spring, titled "Reflecting Architecture," I am reminded of how harmonizing Central Park is as it binds people and communities together. It is a gathering spot where I would bump into fellow dog walkers and joggers and share a greeting. Along the perimeter sits a collection of bustling buildings held at bay while nature provides space in a vast city. It sparkles in the spring with the budding of pink and lavender. The seasons have the concept of change and variety built into the natural cycle of living. My work celebrates the vitality of each passing season and connections to the rhythms of our lives. As an artist, I want to hold onto the beauty of the land, water, and sky.
I recently read a memoir by Kate Bowler titled, No Cure for Being Human (And Other Truths I Need to Hear). In her book, she describes three perspectives of time: tragic, apocalyptical, and everyday pastoral. I tend to paint the pastoral because the great sin in life is arrogance, becoming impervious to life itself, and failing to love what is present. Living in the moment means loving all that is possible. Art can encourage us to cherish intuition, uncertainty, and creativity and constantly search for new ideas. The work aims to inspire or soften the heart of the viewer. If that is accomplished, then it has been successful. May nature and art nurture you this spring.