24x24x2.5 museum profile wrapped canvas. Acrylic. Resin. Glitter. Ready to hang
In 1998 I was in the 8th grade and read White Oleander by Janet Fitch. The whole 8th grade class was going to Great America and I wanted nothing to do with that. 13/14 years old was when anxiety became a big part of my every day life, except in the 90s people didn’t talk about things like mental health. Instead I just started to withdraw from “fun” out of fear, much to the irritation and disdain of my teachers.
For the 8 hour day while everyone went to Great America I sat in an empty classroom, reading White Oleander from cover to cover. I felt alone, suspicious and afraid during those years of my life. Like I was always doing something wrong. I could never make myself small enough. The boys I liked never liked me back. Books were my escape from suburban midwest junior high school. White Oleander was a doozy. It formed the foundation of so many of my views of the world, the people amongst me, and life in general.
Janet Fitch was the very first writer I experienced that wrote using all of the senses. The novel is told in the first person from the point of view of Astrid Magnussen. Astrid grows from twelve to eighteen in the foster care system, we experience everything through her. As she moves from one foster home to another, we learn about the various people, their strengths and shortcomings through Astrid's sensitive eyes. Astrid sounds mature even when she is only twelve. By the time she is eighteen, it is hard to believe her still so young, because she sounds so wise in the ways of life.
I was awestruck at how someone so young could have lived so many lives in one - and in such beautiful detail. In a time of my life when nothing resonated, seemed to matter or feel real - Astrids character and Janet Fitchs writing did. At the end of the book Astrid becomes an artist - wise far beyond her years- that creates art based on all of the different variations of life she survived. I believe it stayed with me the way it did because that is exactly what I and my work become.
As an assignment that year we had to write to our favorite author. I wrote to Janet Fitch, addressed the letter to a po box in California. I’m sure it was something along the lines of thank you for showing me a world where people feel things, overcome adversity and turn it into art. I wasn’t expecting her to but she wrote me back. I don’t remember what was on the front of the postcard but she hand wrote a message to me that I should consider writing as a career. The card was post marked Hollywood, California. I carried that card around with me for years because I believe that post card had magic. Magic of palm trees, and successful writers, and evidence that we all existed in the same world.
In 2003 my boyfriend died of a drug overdose. It wasn’t something that was ok to talk about. I simply got a job in a pizza restaurant and attempted to start my life over. Being a good waitress and working as many hours as possible was all I knew how to do because I knew if I kept living like we were living I would be next. I certainly did not want to live any more. But death seemed so unknown. It was a very messy time in my life - to this day eating spaghetti with vodka sauce and a pound of melted mozzarella is my ultimate comfort food. People would tell me “You know everything isn’t about your dead boyfriend” amongst a lot of other things. I didn’t know how to process tha, especially in silence. But it was certainly expected that I just shut up, get my shit together and act right.
In 2006 Janet Fitch published the book Paint it Black. Paint it Black tells the story of Josie Tyrell, art model, teen runaway, and denizen of LA's 1980 punk rock scene. She finds a chance at real love with art student Michael. A Harvard dropout and son of a renowned pianist, Michael introduces her to his spiritual quest and a world of sophistication she had never dreamed existed. But when she receives a call from the Los Angeles County Coroner, asking her to identify her lover's dead body, her bright dreams all turn to black. Mostly this book told the story of the rage within the silence of sudden loss. At the time, it felt like someone was writing my life and everything I didn’t know how to feel out.
I didn’t write Janet Fitch a letter to a po box that year, but I did write my first novel. And I searched all about her extensively on the internet. She had a writing school in California. I had never wanted to do something more, and at the same time never felt farther away from being able to make it happen. I served deep dish pizza 10 hours a day two thousand miles away. I wish I could go back and tell 22 year old me that the things I was seeing I was seeing because they were possible - that I was good enough and it was for me. I never went to school to write, or to make art for that matter. But that is what I do now, full time. It’s a long story how I got from here to there. I have a long list of paintings I want to make and the story of my identification through Janet Fitch’s writing was at the top of that list.
This painting is a portrait of the magic I believed that the postcard she sent to 13 year old me twenty six years ago held. It is the sun drenched chaos that is the perfection of Southern California - sparkling silver and cracks in the pavement. It is the portrait of the world that this author introduced me to first in her novels, and then in the simplicity of care that shen sent to me, with a hollywood postmark.