December 2013 Winter Blues

Something exciting happened on my way home a few weeks ago: I found a beautiful wood-framed mirror on the sidewalk. It has two side wings with mirrors that open and close like a shutter. This mirror prompted several self-portraits, a subject that I began exploring for my thesis show at Dartmouth College in 2005.  Other pieces relate to meditations and dreams.

 Baba and the Sunflowers
Watercolor, gouache, oil pastel and collage on paper
18" x 11" December 2013

This piece is a working meditation. Some people meditate sitting in lotus position (if you can bend your knees well), while others find time to meditate in nature. A curious way I've found to meditate is through making art. Sometimes, while beginning a piece, the images appear to me as if in a meditation. In this case, an Indian guru Sai Baba appeared and I painted him leading three figures. The figures can represent the different aspects of the self: the male, female and child. In her book Cutting the Ties that Bind, Phyllis Krystal writes about the importance of finding a balance between the different parts of yourself. While many people look outside for a mate, the real partner lies within. In my case, it would be an "inner husband." The union of the masculine and feminine or Yang and Yin, respectively, is a child representing the new self. The sunflowers are from my indoor garden.

 Red Self Portrait
Watercolor, gouache and collage on paper
14" x 10" December 2013 

 This is a first attempt at a self portrait in a long time. To me, it feels a little awkward, but then again, I'm not used to painting myself in this way. It is fun to find different colors on the palette to represent light. This was painted at night.

 Purple Self Portrait
Watercolor, gouache and collage on paper
16" x 10.5" December 2013 

The inspiration for this piece comes from a dream. In the dream, myself and several people I knew are being sucked into a hole resembling the place where two pages meet at the spine of a book. I am deathly afraid of falling into the crack, but there is nothing I can do because I'm on a conveyor-belt type of structure leading to the hole. At some point, I relent and give into the pull and get sucked into the crease. I don't recall what happens when I'm in the "other side" but I emerge with dark purple skin and my third eye opened. When I close my eyes, I'm so dark that you can barely make out my features. I take this dream to mean that I am to give into my fears and the unknown and only this will bring me to my true self (the dark purple skin and third eye open). The third eye has to do with clairvoyance and the pituitary gland between the eyebrows. This interpretation gives me reassurance in a volatile period of my life where everything seems topsy-turvy.

Loose Self Portrait
Watercolor, gouache and collage on paper
16.5" x 11" December 2013

The last self portrait was a bit muddy so I did another one without going over the features more than once.

Head Resting on Hand
Watercolor and gouache on paper
15" x 9" December 13, 2013

 Double Self Portrait
Watercolor and gouache on paper
18" x 22" December 25, 2013

I made these self-portraits on Christmas. It was my first Christmas truly alone: last year I worked to fill the otherwise empty day. As a person whose job and living situation are replete with others, whether they be strangers, friends or family, it was quite odd to be without anyone on this family-oriented day. It reminds me of when I spent a month traveling alone after a painting program in Italy. So bizarre that no one in the world knew where I was, what I was doing, where I was going. I could fall and hurt myself and no one would know for days. Or I could have an adventure and have no one to tell about it. Sometimes I wrote emails to friends or postcards to family, but to be alone, truly alone, takes practice. The constant presence of others smothers me and I frequently seek time to myself to recharge (my friend Tatiana can relate).

How often do we fill our time with television, novels, food, alcohol or people to avoid ourselves! Christmas, although bleak and difficult, proved the ultimate test in self-acceptance. Facing yourself with no distractions. Could you do it? Can you be truly alone and comfortable? It takes courage and practice.

Dark Self Portrait
Watercolor and gouache on paper
16" x 10" December 25, 2013

This first self-portrait made on Christmas is a dark one. At the height of my sorrow, I wrote: "There are no happy endings for me. These are just other people's stories. I feel like I have no place in this world."

No one needs to call the psyche ward. I am fine. These are simply thoughts and feelings that I was experiencing and they are normal. It is challenging to be oneself in a society that constantly preaches that happiness can be found in conformity, consumerism, outward appearances and the size of one's bank account. What is wrong with me? Why can I not conform? Why was I unable to take a career path in economics, academia, medicine, engineering, architecture, or even promote myself to galleries? These shoes that don't fit my feet. Perhaps I should sew my own...moccasins perhaps?

 Smudged Self Portrait
Watercolor and gouache on paper
18" x 10" December 25, 2013

After completing the last self-portrait I was feeling a little better. By smudging the features in this self-portrait, I suggest the blurriness of my own identity. Satya Sai Baba says there are three selves: the self that you think you are, the self other people think you are, and the self who you truly are. Strive to bring these three together and find peace and happiness. There are many habits I must eliminate to bring these three together. And the self-critical ego is a challenge to overcome: the part of me that puffs up when it is praised and deflates when criticized. The death of the small self is a precursor to the rebirth of the Higher Self, the intuition or God Self which is who we truly are. Perhaps this is the process I am undergoing: dying to be reborn again.


Popular Posts