At the start of 2019, I stumbled into working with acrylic paint … figured it was time. I used the excuse of not wanting to waste my son’s left over paint (he had finished his piece and large globs of fresh wet paint beckoned me from the palette) I couldn’t resist the call, but I had also been wondering for months what it was going to take to dive in. So, I used-up his paint - started with a colorful base layer, added a form with in black, and finished it off by covering/blending white over the background color. It felt really satisfying, that process. It made sense in an intuitive way - inevitably tied to some art/design-knowledge deep inside me.
I continued this way for several days, increasingly enjoying the unabashed color explosion and the practice of adding structure in black and framing it with white. It felt like design in some ways … brainstorming and then editing the idea down to the essence. Bring it down to minimal black and white.
It wasn’t until January 6th, when an Instagram friend beautifully shared her reaction to what I was doing:
It feels like there's a whole world of color just waiting to explode from within you. ... It’s sooo intereting to view someone else’s process & think: “What?! They’re drawn to do that?”
“I wonder why someone would want to paint over those gorgeous colors w/ black & white.”
Why DO I want to paint over these gorgeous colors with black and white? Her question pierced right through me, and struck a chord that continues to ring and resonate. I found symbolism in the answer.
Personally, I have spent my entire life learning how to make myself palatable to others. As a girl, as a woman, as a designer, maker, and as an entrepreneur - I anticipate other’s needs, desires, and expectations and mold myself and my offering as close to that as possible - hopefully without losing too much of myself. That is how women advance, it is how they avoid harm, it is how we have been taught to succeed. We accommodate and we make ourselves palatable to the point where I don’t even know what my gut reaction is sometimes before I know what others’ reactions could be. Who am I? What are my expectations?
Creatively, I work with composition and context. I define boundaries and I play within them. I witness chaos and I find a way to create order, to capture emotion and highlight the most true or relevant part in that context. I edit and simplify to create flexibility to reach a more universal audience.
Her question hit all of these nerves and then it hit another …. my personal anti-racism work
Our country is founded and built on a system of white supremacy. The white men in power have systematically exploited, abused, disregarded, murdered, and built wealth - at the expense of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) - and women - for generations. We are born into this system and we learn certain things to be true based on that system. We know the saying that the world is not black and white, it is grey. Well really .. .it is colorful!! COLOR HAS BEEN WHITE WASHED in our society since it’s inception. We whitewash color in our laws, in our built environment, in our own personal interactions day in and day out. It is as ingrained as my feminine need to please.
As a white woman who had “exceptionalized”myself into thinking I didn’t have any anti-racism work to do (because I am married to an Lao-refugee and am raising mixed boys, and am the minority in my own household and neighborhood) … it STILL takes so much energy to simply recognize all the ways I require the world to be whitewashed for me. Make it palatable for me as I make myself palatable for others. It is a system. It is only through that recognition that I can see the density of whitewashing in the wider society. It is uncomfortable work to dig into this wound, it is uncomfortable to acknowledge our complicity in the system that oppresses.
How do we restructure our brains, habits and mentalities? How do we learn to accept ourselves and others through a true lens of allowing everyone their existence? I use art and this practice to process my experience of the world, and so on January 7th I continued with the acrylic paint. Each day I tried to find the way out of using the black and white paint to appease myself.
It took 17 days. Seventeen days of consciously knowing what I was doing and what I needed to do … to find a way to let my colors exist openly. Each day I wondered if this would be it. I tried different styles, different ways of letting the color shine through, but until I unlatched the lock on trying to be “good” (as in making good art) the white was the means of …. making it good. Or at least better - acceptable to share with the world on Instagram.
On January 24th I decided to let go of being good, to simply get down to the bare essentials of my truth in full color. Part of doing that was also being more literal/symbolic than expressive in the content - and it felt scary and exhilarating and FREEING. It felt freeing … for myself and it also meant that I could share these interpretations of my process with you. Because now I could explain this complicated web of thoughts that boils down to something very simple. We must all do the work of unpacking our biases and skewed means of comfort. Learn to see and look at the world differently. Find the way to unravel your thinking, to reorient your senses. Work through art if you need to. There is enough room for everyone - there has to be.
In the end, for the last piece of the month, I brought the white back. This time, instead of covering the color, it supports the color.
I stepped away from acrylic paint on February 1st - went to a sketchbook format so that I could get some distance between me and what I had just worked through. A few days later, I found myself in front of a Robert Motherwell painting at The Met in Manhattan. In a predominantly black and white painting I realized that he had used white to outline and crisp-up the dominant shapes in the painting. I could see his brush strokes and it struck a fresh nerve in me —> I knew those motions. In feeling those brush strokes in my body, I could envision his body making that painting and I suddenly understood that, while all the things that I mention above are true, so is it true that I was/am learning how to be a better painter. These techniques could symbolize a personal growth of shedding my fear and stepping out in a more true way -AND- they could so be evidence of me improving my skills. Multiple things can be true at the same time.
In the end, I interpreted the meaning and I placed the value on the things that were relevant to me in the moments of creating these works. Others can place their own meaning and value upon them, too.