Meditation on Somatic Memory
36"x24" Acrylic on canvas
36"x24" Acrylic on canvas
I've been living with this painting for a few weeks now. I've deemed it finished. I don't see any light or dark places that stop my movement within the painting. And all of the forms that I see change. A couple of days ago, I saw Captain Kangaroo in there. I told myself, "If he's still there tomorrow, he will have to go." But I couldn't find him again.
The process was to lay down a think layer of gesso, not particularly even throughout the canvas, and then to stamp into the gesso. So I used a spiral shaped plastic piece I have, the fax cover that I've used in charcoal drawings and another painting in the past--that's responsible for the marks in the bottom section of the painting. And I used a rectangular tool with the idea to make more architectural representations, buildings maybe. In the end, I put three skewers in my hand, spread unevenly, and dragged them squiggly through random parts of the composition. When I left the painting to let the gesso dry, I could see some of the marks softening into each other. I had mixed feelings about that. And then, after the gesso had dried, there were lots of popped air-bubble holes, and in general, there seemed like a lot of busy-ness at the bottom of the composition. To create that had been my original intention--I wanted a lot to be happening down there--but seeing it? I had mixed feelings.
But I moved forward, confident at this point that I'd resolve any of those issues by working it more. Moving forward meant moving the dark into the low-lying places. I sprayed the painting with my water bottle, getting it really wet, and floated in the perfect grey (black made from the primaries). I was unhappy with splotches of paint that didn't float, but if I tried moving them, that changed what was happening in other unsatisfactory ways. So I walked away to let it dry.
When I came back to the dry painting, I could see where I needed to add more dark and more light and tried working with splotches and air holes. I could see places where some of the red, violet, and very subtle blue-green had pulled out of the perfect grey I had mixed. I made the decision then to have that be my "only" color.
When I started adding more dark in, using my fake chamois, I could see how the paint moved on the gessoed areas and loved the forms that were emerging. That there are human forms for me, quirky animals, creatures from "Labyrinth," the form that changes from elephant head to scary profile to haunch and body of a fearsome cat, ladders to who knows where, collapsing structures, and the occasional Captain Kangaroo make this more meaningful for me. It seems dreamlike and as if I were glimpsing into a lifetime of things experienced, observed, and fancied. It seemed as if the outer wall were carved away or destroyed so that what is revealed is the inner-scape.
Two things then happened to help me understand the painting and make peace with my media. My daughter and I were having a conversation about cellular memory (she said this has nothing to do with your cell phone plan). We were talking about babies and what they recall. Events may not be in their conscious memory but stored in cellular memory--it's our somatic memory. I thought about how I'd been thinking about the bottom part of the painting as cells and veiny kinds of structures. And how some of the forms had made me think about the creatures that live under your bed so that you don't dare stick your foot out of the covers as you sleep--no matter that you live in Phoenix, it's 112 degrees, and you only have evap cooling, you still have to sleep covered up. All that's in the painting. It holds somatic memory. There's places of birthing and of languishing, there are guides and demons, efforts to reach new heights and places of respite from the climb, and the screaming being will forever be a part of this, as will the form that holds their hand out in offering. That's somatic memory. From that came the title.
But I was still cranky about the air holes in the white and the mottled of some of the dark. I went over some air holes with more gesso. But decided that leaving some added to an erosion kind of effect. I evened out some of the mottled grey in the low places. But I still wasn't sure about that effect. Then a friend who was traveling in Ireland posted some pictures of some of the rock formations at Burren National Park. I gasped when seeing her images. She said she had thought of me when she posted the pictures. The aged stones, the grass growing between them, reminded us both of my work. But in the detail of that, what I noticed finally, the rocks were mottled grey! Peace made.
I feel as though everything I've been doing as an artist has led to this painting. I'm excited and, yes, a little scared about what comes next...