Stripped Down and Broken Open: Giving Birth to Art

red mountain from ancient site copy

This is the third in a series of posts taking you back through a history of my work, from its very realistic roots and on to my abstracts (see previous posts Why Aren’t My Paintings PRETTY For God’s Sake? and So You Think Artists Are Lazy?). I will endeavor to shed light on how the one led to the other.

Stripped Down and Broken Open: Giving Birth to Art

I have to believe the transformation was put into motion when I moved to Utah (see previous post Into the Wilderness).

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I left my home in Seattle for a small town in the southern part of the state, with my newish husband who was also my best friend. I never would have made the move without him. Our union was solid and would last a lifetime, I was certain. But nine short months after the move, our marriage ended. There aren’t words enough to adequately describe my sense of loss. Perhaps that’s why, in some cultures, people keen over the bodies of their loved ones. I keened over the body of my marriage, because there were no words.

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Bereft, I found myself suddenly and utterly alone in the desert–a very strange and foreign land to me, completely opposite from everything I had ever known in the Northwest (see previous post Of the Land). The air smelled different, like spices on my tongue. A thick fragrance of sage and cactus flowers, indigo and creosote bush mixed with the sweat on my skin.

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Nights were hot and black, holding a depth beyond comprehension. There were no comforting house lights across the street because there were no houses, no neighbors.

And it was silent, so silent my ears ached with it.

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The heat, at 110, 120, most days, was impossible to grasp. It radiated up from the red sand, burned down on me from a white hot sky. I was surrounded by it entirely. It melted my steering wheel. Seriously.

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I didn’t even recognize the BUGS! There were scorpions and tarantulas among many, many others, not one of which was within my realm of experience. And let’s not forget the several different types of rattlesnakes and GILA MONSTERS.

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The days hissed with the hot rustle of cicadas.

No, this was definitely not my home.

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Stripped down, flayed and broken open, this is where I caught my first true glimpse of me. THIS is where the abstracts were born. But I wouldn’t fully understand it until this very moment as I write it out to you. They waited years to show themselves–until I came to New Mexico, where the mountain scooped me up and held me in her deep, cool, embrace.

Absolutely none of this was welcome and none of it was accidental. I was exactly where I needed to be to do the work I was meant to do. I just didn’t know it yet.

3 mile canyon copy

I continued to paint genre pieces for awhile after my arrival in Utah, although I didn’t find as many people out and about–likely due to the heat, you think?

This was my very first Utah painting. The bright light and heat are evident, but I was still working in the cool colors of the Northwest:

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Somewhere along the way my pallet changed to reflect the warm desert light, as opposed to the blue light of the Northwest. (Note to Roberta Call, the young woman in this painting: I just found this small digital file, but I didn’t have your email address).

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I had my own teaching studio in Utah which was part of the Coyote Gulch Art Village. This scene took place very near my Blue Raven Studio:

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This is a painting of my Buddhist teacher who helped me through the difficult transitions, two fellow students, and the iconoclastic cowboy who was my boss and owner of the horse tour business I’d become a part of. We were all standing on the rim of Three Mile Canyon, walking distance from my home:

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This was, literally, my back yard:

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My subject matter shifted when I felt the desire to celebrate and document the women and girls who touched my life and helped to give it meaning.

This is Ginny, my very first painting student on our very first day of class…

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… and Aubrie who became like a daughter to me…

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… Paige, a woman who believed in my work early on and commissioned several portraits, as did her sisters…

Paige Web

… and this is a self portrait with my dear apricot angel, Little Girl, moving in front of the camera as I took the shot…

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In the midst of painting this show I went a little color-freaky. I amplified everything and started to loosen up in other ways as well. It may have been a reflection of my healing, but the color poured out of me. And I began playing with abstracted forms. In fact this is when the very first hints of abstraction were introduced to my work.

The truth is, I was working with a couple of abstract painters in my classes and I was intrigued. As I helped them hone their skills, I began to investigate mine.

This is Kayla, a girl who lived near me. She became profoundly significant in my life and was a flame point of great personal growth…

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… here’s Lynn taking a break from one of my painting classes…

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… and Valerianne playing her flute in the canyon for a cloud of golden dragonflies…

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… Karen in an ancient village near my home…

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… and Brenda, whose bright smile and bright eyes always inspired me…

Brenda

Thus began a two year period of work that resulted in a show called, Changing the Way We See, at the Sears Art Museum Gallery at Dixie State University. Here is a quote from my show concept: “These women and girls, the paintings you will see here, are my healers, my lessons, my road map, my inspiration, my guides. Through the salve of their souls, I find myself. May this show offer you, as well, a new way to see.”

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On Friday I’ll show you examples of my work shifting fairly dramatically to abstracted forms while still holding onto the figure. These will be the last paintings before my first trip to Truchas and my first abstract show.

See you Friday.

Love to you all,

Jeane

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