“Women’s Work”

Two Eves mixed media paintings

Two Eves, empowering portraits of girlz, circa 1995

Back in September 2020, at the height of the COVID-19 epidemic, a friend drove me to Indiana to pick up as much of my old artwork as we could load into her pickup. It was my first trip out of town since the pandemic began, and I was nervous about the four hour drive, nervous about being in public places, even briefly and while masked, and nervous that I would bump into my ex as a good portion of my artistic history is still in the attic of the farmhouse I once co-owned with him. Instead the trip was a going backwards in a good way that I sorely needed.

When I got it home to Kentucky, it felt oddly satisfying and deeply settling to wrap the rescued artworks in plastic and store them in my shed. All winter long as walked by it, filling bird feeders and fetching dry wood for my ceremonial little fires I could feel their presence, and that was enough until I moved into a new art making space where I have been painting and drawing several times a week again, also a first since the pandemic hit.

One of the purposes of this new, shared art space is to sell artwork. However, anyone who knows me well knows I don’t give a **** about selling my artwork; that’s not the reason I made art (although I didn’t know it at the time) or make art now. I do it because it’s a way to tell stories, some of them secrets, without saying a word. Visualizing my memories and feelings is healing and empowering. It grounds me. Making art creates something concrete and real when my world feels shaky and nebulous. It makes me feel like I am doing something positive and constructive during difficult times. So I told the art-space-mates that I wouldn’t be putting anything out in the front room to sell.

Now, I live in a place “where art is alive” as the billboards boast and the water tower proclaims. But in truth, it is a place where art is meant to bring tourists in who will buy it. Old Town, the location of my new studio space, has several galleries and craft workshops, but it’s mostly a ghost town, only recently enlivened by a pizza place that sells beer and wine. This “artisan village” couldn’t support a coffee shop either, though there was one in 2016 that I frequented once or twice with Owen, and I still think of him and that cafe every time I pass the clothing boutique that has replaced it.

But, like I said, I had no intention of selling anything — until the blank walls began to bother me, and I thought about my mummified artworks baking in the summer heat, and I suddenly had a fierce need to display them. So yesterday morning I worked up a slight sweat by grabbing two packages of small pieces from the late 1990s along with the two panels illustrated here, and brought them to the art space after work.

Here’s my history, according to them. 

Me outside ARC 1995

Me, outside ARC Gallery Chicago, after hanging Women’s Work

It was quite a transition from graduate student to working artist/teacher. I had to downsize my studio space by three-quarters, moving it into a half-basement of a townhouse I rented with my second husband, whom I married in 1994. But one of the first professional things I did was join ARC Gallery in Chicago, “one of the oldest co-ops of its kind in the country”. It was my first experience with gallery representation, which likely formed my lack of affinity for traditional galleries with paid staff judging artists based on their ability to sell, charging 50% commission on artworks sold, and an institutional hierarchy that is clearly patriarchal and focused on consumerism and majority rules. At ARC in 1994 there was a president, treasurer and secretary, elected by the membership for short terms. We all had a full say in decision making, and practiced group consensus. Every member paid minimal dues and had a gallery job — mine was doing monthly PR and Saturday gallery sitting a couple times a month. It wasn’t perfect, I’ll admit. I remember being particularly jealous of members who had lawyers and doctors for husbands and didn’t have to support themselves and a family like I did while struggling as a frantic adjunct professor with little time or money to make art. But overall ARC became a great role model for another kind of arts organization that I have been trying and failing to sell to this artist community after brief stints as a co-director of an informal organization that was supposed to promote public mural projects, and a member of local arts council that seemed to become paralyzed by COVID-19 restrictions that I saw instead as opportunities for growth and change.

So I feel like celebrating the person I became because of the person I was in 1995 by posting this pic of me in my late 30s, looking like Tom Cruise in Risky Business, tired as hell from hanging my ARC solo show entitled “Women’s Work” in which I displayed the panels I depict here, two of the six 50 x 35″ or so panels I entitled “The Eves”. They were based on photographs of my youngest daughter and one of her friends, and I no longer recall if I took them or they did. I only know that their poses intrigued me from a feminist perspective, it was pleasing and empowering to work with them and display them, and I am even more impressed with myself now as I unwrap crusty bubble wrap, maybe for the first time since that show, as ancient shavings from industrious mice cascade onto the sales room floor.

 

 

 

Healing Through Art Panel, 3/27/19

Flyer I designed for Healing Through Art Panel, EKU

I took three hours out of my busy AmeriCorps Program Director work day to participate in this panel presentation on art and healing. I was one of three writer/artists to participate, although I have twenty academic years under my belt as well and could easily have worn that hat — but I am glad I didn’t. I find so much more meaning in telling my own story (as egoistic as this may sound) because my story is also the story of the underserved by art individuals I have been able to help through offering them opportunities to visually tell their own.

With organizers Drs. Melinda Moore and Judy Vandevenne, and artists Pam and Obiora at the Healing Through Art panel, March 2019.

The artists present were invited to bring samples of our artwork, and I automatically chose the healing artworks I created between 2009 and 2013 that helped me by illustrating my misery, my grief and finally my ability to celebrate my transition from traditional college art professor to teaching artist to the underserved and during a time when many painful memories and truths were being revealed. As a result I will most likely be showing that series of artworks for the first time at a local Richmond, KY gallery — and won’t that be empowering!

Night, 2009, at the Healing Through Art panel, March 2019.

Many thanks to Melinda Moore, psychology professor and leader of the Survivors of Suicide group at EKU for inviting me to speak and share my healing through art story.

Engagement

Not mine; wish it was!

Five years ago, a newspaper article was written about me and my efforts to help the homeless through visual art experiences. It never would have happened if I hadn’t walked into that shelter at the right time, and met the right kind of executive director who believed that the homeless have gifts to share with the community — and believed in me.

When people believe in you, you can move mountains, and I felt like I did during the three years I devoted time, effort and care to the homeless in my community by working directly with them, building trust, encouraging them to engage and take artistic risks when they spent most of their days being told by others what to do and how to do it — or else. I helped the homeless engage in three fundraisers (not just be the recipient of proceeds); I created an art-based economic empowerment project that for a short period of time helped the homeless earn while making art AND made them feel part of the community via art sales in local galleries; I made for them a peaceful, safe artistic space separate from the stress of the day shelter; and last but certainly not least, the homeless helped ME create a beautiful mural that I hope will stay on that smoking yard wall to remind staff and guests that the homeless have abundant gifts to give, if we just offer them the tools, and the chance.

M on wall with camo

Five years later, after almost three years living in a new community in Kentucky, I am finally feeling the urge to be engaged again. There are a lot of reasons for what caused this lengthy delay — such as the death of a marriage, the death of a loved one by suicide, health compromises, and what it takes to recover from those traumas as well as the length of time and energy it takes to rebuild ones life in middle age. It wasn’t hesitancy though. It was knowing what I could handle and what I could not. It was taking good care of myself. It was survival.

Now I am ready to begin helping the homeless again — but not via a program that makes shelter available to some instead of all, and not in alignment with any agenda, only as an artist. I am ready to engage my community in public art projects — and that means all of the community, not just the artistic or able. I also hope to spread an engaging message: That art is not just about teaching it, making it and selling it. Art is a resilience builder and a survival tool and I know this, because that is how Art has helped me.

Sweetheart Flying, 2017 Ink, marker, colored pencil and watercolor on paper

Pride

I recently sat in on a prospective AmeriCorps KY READY Corps member interview, during which she was asked to share a most significant project, most complex project or a project she was most proud of — and my heart went out to her and her struggle to find a story to relate. Though I had no doubt she would discover something, and she did, watching that struggle and hearing her openly confess: “Pride? I never really thought about anything I did as something to be proud of…” touched me and made me remember the shame of the homeless in terms of where they lived, what they did and how it got them there. It also reminded me of me as a kid and young adult without any self confidence or pride in myself or my family or where I came from.

That is why it was soooo amazing to be a part of helping the William Wells Brown kids last fall to create these panels because they are all about pride in themselves and the history of their community. But the best part was hearing that the panels would be part of a new exhibit at the Kentucky Horse Park, honoring the long history of African American jockey and trainer involvement in the horse industry.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The panels have also been made into a fundraising poster!

I plan to be at the Park on 7/5/18 when many of the William Wells Brown kidz will be present to see their work on the walls. THAT’s going to be empowering!!

Photography with LEXengaged & at-risk youth in Lexington

Here is the first installment of a photography project I am facilitating with college students and at-risk youth in Lexington.The focus is on symbolism and metaphor as portrait.