Today was a hard day. I moved yesterday. Now I live in Slidell, a town about 30 minutes over the river from New Orleans, a town I'd only stepped foot in maybe twice before moving to. Everything feels familiar in that american way where everything is strip malls, gas stations, and fast food joints. I will still commute into New Orleans to work in the square on the weekends. It is so strange how the familiar can grow estranged; the way a lover can become a friend and then a stranger again.
It is weird to drive into the city I've felt to be home since 2004 and not be able to afford the rent anymore. I can hardly imagine how people with generations of family rooted there felt after Katrina. I'm getting my barings and finding my a pace.
When I drove in this morning I realized I'd fucked up; I'd felt so on it- so functional and adult like, and then realized I'd left over half of my art work packed away, across the river. I biked the mile back to my car ready to pay my penance with an hours car ride. Before leaving I decided - I've got enough materials with me, I'll just hustle the portraits as hard as I can today and work with that.
And today was a wonderful day! I did a total of 9 portraits and people were beyond generous with their time and money and patience and self hood. It is really very tricky to attempt some form of physical/emotional reflection of another human in short time spans. I am hoping that over time I can become adept at form enough (I mean anatomy- physical likeness) that I can spend the bulk of the time studying the very nuanced sensations I get from the person and trying to elaborate that more.
I can feel how meaningful it is for people to feel 'seen'. I want to offer them that in the fullest way possible. Sometimes what we see isn't all pretty. I can see all the assumptions I make about how people feel about their own physical forms; Men I feel less pressure to make appear 'attractive' (basically the same reflex as society at large). Homely people I often push toward greater beauty in a way that feels 'pure' or 'dignified'. (I want those people to know I see beauty in them because I see it in everyone!) Stereo typically pretty women I know will be easy to paint and I feel a bit more freedom to mess around with the piece because I assume they are firmly confident in their physical presence (what an assumption!). People who rub me at all as rude/demanding (which is really not many since folks don't really sit in that mindset) will likely end up with something unidentifiably unpleasant in their portrait.
Today I started the day with a couple who have now become welcome friends & familar faces. It was my second time painting one of them, and I felt so much freedom. It was the first time painting his husband and I felt the same freedom there too. From there I had a lot of very young women/girls inhabiting very interesting age ranges- from around 11 to 18. It was fascinating to me to see so much emotion and thought and yet this immense sense of possibility (so different from a 40 year old face!). I had a few moments where I felt some kind of pressure to make these girls look 'pretty' (the same pressure they surely face everyday!) I had to push that thought away like a fly landing on my shoulder over and over again - just so I could really look and actually see them. I am starting to think it may be harder to see and paint a pretty woman honestly than anyone else.
Two of my favorite moments were: The last painting I had great difficulty with and the model (12 years old) was incredibly patient. I was getting mauled by doubts - "is her nose too big? is her face too wide?" I was picking it apart the way teen magazines and the worst of female advertising encourages us to do. The person in front of me seemed beautiful and amazing and complex and I worried that if she thought this image of her didn't match some hollywood idea that it could mess with her self esteem and I didn't know how to handle that sense of responsiblity. Her dad came by and glanced at it and clearly wasn't psyched. I sighed and said "well maybe this one just doesn't work, sometimes it's like that" I handed her the work as it was and- her face lit up! She was thrilled to see this image of herself. I was thrilled to watch a 12 year old make their own value judgement and be firm in it. The other moment was a 14 year old who drew a small sketch of me and gave it to me. (Posted here-Drawing by Maggie Mae- featured in first portrait)