Every picture tells a story, and in art, it is remarkable how different that story can be from one person to the next. For instance, a painting of an apple sliced in half with a knife nearby can look juicy and appealing to one person, but not to another because the apple is cut open and the knife is sinister. In short, artists create pictures, and once they go public, the doors of interpretation are flung open. I have seen this many times in my years of being an artist. This is especially so with figurative work that is “controversial.”
This week I posted a photo on Facebook that immediately provoked debate. The photo was of a young woman, nude, on her side, holding herself closely in an almost fetal position. There is a great deal of movement around her, with textures, and symbolic elements, such as flowers and contrasting values of light and dark. The first comment was from a woman; “Beautiful!!! This is tasteful and gorgeous. Feminine loveliness.” The second commenter, also a woman, made several remarks— “She looks beat up.” “Sorry, maybe it's my healthcare background.... maybe it reminds me of what I faced last yr....queasy feeling . . . reminds me of.... can’t! Tears!” Did she mean it reminded her of death?
First off, I am always grateful for strong response to my artwork one way or another, for the Bible warns, “So then because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew you out of my mouth.” I have had to make choices as an artist, to either stay away from controversy, or pursue and then share visions that may be met with disapproval. (See my Hangup paintings.)
This particular piece began because I have a huge archive of photographs and enjoy combining them into new forms. I like working with nudes because of the divine qualities of the human form, and also because bodies are powerful symbolically. The textures were created in my studio, painting on glass and they are fast moving, like the wind. The flowers are white roses, and an iris seen from above. I like the color red as a symbol of blood—life. Blood can also be threatening, seen as a wound that brings death. For there to be breadth in art, contrasts must be included, thus darkness and light.
After all this, it is up to you the viewer to bring whatever emotion and experience you have into the picture. Or else, look with fresh eyes, like a child, and be captivated in wonder.
Here are the photos that were combined to make the final artwork:
Among the myriad memories of my youth, some episodes stand out more than others. When I was 13, I was with friends playing basketball at the outdoor court at our local playground, when, from outside the fence my mother appeared and began yelling, “Steven, Steven! It is your birthday!” We all had forgotten. My mother was aghast that she had not remembered. But in the grand scheme of things, it is just another day.
Today is Sunday, the day I always post to My Fairy-Tale Life. It also happens to be my birthday. Yesterday, Heidi Of The Mountains planned to take me out to dinner, so we dressed up and went downtown. She said she had to make a quick stop at one of our friend’s home, because she had left something there. We pulled up to the house and I recognized a couple artists I know, getting out of a car. I thought, what a coincidence! We parked and we headed to the house, I noticed they had greeting cards in hand, but it took me a few minutes to begin realizing what was happening. Then, at the door, with friends inside all smiling at me, I knew Heidi had arranged a surprise party. The evening was fantastic and when it came time for the cake, I sat at the table and a chorus of song broke out. The candles were lit, and I made my wish and leaned over to blow them out, but, at the same moment, a wind came through the window and began blowing them out before me, so that they were easy to get out all at once.
Maybe I should not say what I wished for, but I am sixty now, and have had some aches in my body that bother me. Heidi is eleven years younger, but she too has some aches . . . so I wished for good health for both of us in the coming year, and prosperity. When the wind began blowing out the candles before me, and made it easy to get them all out, I thought, “This is Naomi, in spirit, making the wind blow.” And I believe my wishes will come true.
How often does it happen that after visiting an art museum, we walk back out onto the same streets, but with different eyes. After spending hours looking closely at art, we have begun to see differently, because the artwork has given us a new visual vocabulary.
Many times, I have stepped out of a museum, and suddenly I am aware of even the cracks in sidewalks seeming to speak to me . . . informing me of their unique lines and the shapes they carve into a picture. Since the twentieth century, there have been two main themes in visual art: abstraction and realism. Common thought is that the two do not meet, but are opposed. I do not think the contrast is so stark. How often is it that we look up into an abstract sky that is constantly in flux, and notice how the clouds have taken a “realistic” shape. Someone points a finger upward and says, “Look, it is a horse!” Likewise, looking at large, realist paintings, if we bring our eyes close to the work, it becomes abstract, so that we need to step back in order to get the full picture and read the story.
Yesterday, a woman bought a painting from The Steven Boone Gallery. She bought a small, square shaped oil painting of mine, called “The Pleasant Path.” She may or may not realize it, but she has many paintings in one—both realistic, and abstract. Hopefully, the painting is broadening her visual vocabulary, and doing what artwork does for us, enhancing life.