Earlier this summer, I took a sociology course that focused on marriage + family relationships. I dug into my family genealogy and wrote a post about my findings here. When my current art teacher shared an opportunity to enter an art contest at the college, she mentioned the theme would be Remembrance, The Presence of the Past. I immediately started conjuring up images of my grandparents on both sides and asked family members for help in sending me images.
I ended up selecting this one of my maternal grandparents from 1942 and went to Kinko's and asked for an architect's rendering photocopy ($5) and came home and carefully affixed it with spray adhesive to a two inch deep, 18" x 24" wood panel that I picked up at Riley Street Art Supply on sale for about $25. I smoothed out all of the air bubbles with a screen printing squeegee and was ready for the next step.
Next, I applied two thin coats of Liquitex's Matte Medium to the top of the photocopied image and let it dry for a full 24 hours. It felt tacky to the touch at first and I think I went a little too thick. Next time, I would just lightly cover the image with one coat of this medium. My professor said that my acrylics would lay better over the top of this coating and that it was a necessary step.
Next up was mixing up a custom bubblegum pink paint color with red, white and silver acrylic paints. The six stripes/rays of color would serve to symbolize the six girls they had together; the fifth girl in birth order would be my mother and symbolized in the painting by the largest pink strip of color in the upper right-hand corner.
Working on this piece turned out to be really tough on me emotionally. As I selected the colors and thought about my grandparents' union and history, lots of family lore and the stories I'd been told growing up came flooding back to me.
I ended up picking the color green to symbolize their farming roots, as well as my grandmother's Irish heritage. My grandfather was born and raised in Chickashaw, Oklahoma and that's all we ever knew. Turns out, Chickashaw Oklahoma is located in Grady County, Oklahoma. I discovered this little known fact while I was doing my research over the summer and shared the newfound information with my mother. By sheer coincidence, over 12 years ago, I named my son Grady and this little coincidence made me smirk at the collision of family ties that bind and the role fate played in naming our only son.
I chose the color black to symbolize the darkness and unrest that my mother experienced as a young woman in their household. I also painted the bottom portion with a heavy black line to stretch that symbolism and anchor the piece. The dark foundation that, in the end, led her from their home and into the arms of my father and her new life in California as an 18 year old runaway from Arizona.
The yellow would symbolize the bright futures and dozens of good people that ultimately came from their marital union.
In the end, working on this piece brought me a kind of acceptance of the past that I had yet to experience in my lifetime to date. I dug deep and tried to focus on their legacy and how I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for them. I certainly wouldn't have this amazing young man that I'm so infinitely proud of as my son. I focused on the good and that satisfied me this time around and dug me out of the funk I was in during the week I was painting.
This was my first time entering anything into an art show and I won a small recognition prize for my work. I'm pretty sure the real prize was working through my big feelings and coming out on the other side happier and more appreciative of where I came from, despite the flawed history I'd been told over the years. I realized I had the power to channel those stories into something beautiful and more meaningful through my art.
I'm flawed and I know it. Hell, everyone is. And by getting myself centered and straight in my life, I can now have more sympathy and compassion for others. It's hard to forgive family sometimes, but I'm working on it and discovering that by accepting their imperfections, I can finally accept mine.