36in x 36in Acrylic, Ink, Glitter, Resin, Tar. Ready to hang.
“It’s probably pretty hard to believe. Then compared to now.” She says quietly. I focus on the black of the cold sky, looking for traces of starlight. They don’t appear.
It comes early this time of year, the way the sky and the sea turn into a vast shadow. All at once they aren’t separate. Sometimes I think if I start to tell the stories of a shadow that is vast and connective through my art it will swallow me whole, and I’ll never be able to go back to using the light as the narrative to spark connection and detail. Like if I move the compartments around everything I’ve worked to fit into this world as something positive won’t go back together.
During the height of the pandemic, with all of the cruise ships parked in the ocean, every night in the thick mist there would be fog horns over and over. It was comforting. The knowing that something was being careful of something else in that endless feeling of blank dark and the seeming landslide of civilization as I knew it. Where all I know is that there is nothing left to feel, if I’m lucky.
Color is a compound composition wavelength of light but even a wavelength has a dark to it in order to create depth. I’ve spent the last three years telling stories using vivid pops of colors and contrasts and sometimes, I’m tired of only mining the best sides of myself that will sell or put out a positive frequency of understanding and identification.
It’s a joke I always say if for whatever reason I am speaking about my life experience. “Pretty sure I died on a floor somehwere 17 years ago and entered some other existence, I just got to keep this body. I’m probably a ghost but like that Bruce Willis movie I don’t know it.”
Confused ghost in the room or not, that is the truth of what it feels like. To have nothing. Believe I am nothing. Get hurt, become very scared, and only knowing how to be reactive and defensive. Addicted and desperate. Degraded and invisible. The inside was chaos so the outside had to be too. It’s the law. Self-obsession, drugs, isolation, and the chaos that combination of traits manufacture became the first identity I ever felt made me worth something. I held onto the specialness and importance of what I have experienced for a long time. I’d get smashed and take someone hostage with those stories. If they listened, I thought that was love. That cost me a lot of time, and a lot of lessons I probably didn’t have to learn.
Now people make time to meet with me. I get asked to be a speaker. My art hangs in homes on 5 different continents. I am described as successful or brilliantly talented, which is something that always knocks the wind out of me a little and makes me almost instantly start nervously laughing. I feel a little ridiculous even writing that. I’ll probably read it to Kevin later, watch the look on his face, and take that part out if there is so much as a flicker in his expression. I know that those deep waves of worthlessness, fear, unmanageability and horror have made me wise far beyond my years. Or at least that is what I tell myself. I had to have felt all of that for something.
Active addiction taught me how to figure out a way to get shit done no matter what. Active recovery has taught me the language of empathy and that I am not unique. Both of these skills are exactly what created my art business, even though I really just thought it was luck. My yoga practice has taught me to see myself in the mirror and not be horrified, just like moments of silence alone sitting with my art have taught me that something far beyond me paints these canvases and pushes me into the courage of putting them out into the world.
But it was like a long subtle earthquake last week that really shifted my careful ability to only focus on the positive. I am finally the adult in the room in all of my memories. Sitting with teenager me, telling her it isn’t all ok but I’ll live. There isn’t confusing and it isn’t complicated what happened. And I feel so angry. For me, anger is terrifying. It is unbecoming. Suffocating. Vast, dark and endless in the way I can connect it to everything. Like it will swallow me whole. The shadow part of me that I try so hard to ignore, even though it gives me an immense amount of power to feel and create.
It’s cold out tonight. Really dark and the sky doesn’t sparkle. A long December. I’ve always loved that song so much, and specifically Adam Duritz’s voice in the winter. (Bonus line I did listen to Washington Square by that band about a million times when I first got clean. It was spring and that song sounded exactly like the hope I felt.) Tonight I know that what got me into all of that is the exact same thing that got me out and gave me the lessons I needed so I could understand what I have to understand so I can make the things I said I would before I was born. Sometimes I have to honor the shadow even though it’s a scary thing to put out into the world. So I made this portrait, claw marks and blank spaces and pops of bejeweled rainbows and buried silver that I want so much to recognize and all. So I can stop trying to catch up with then, now and just let all of us be still. I’m still pretty sure that girl died though and I’m just here cleaning it up for her.
So this is my dark art for today. I wasn’t going to sell it because every layer I made I thought it was done, but then I’d wake up the next day and when it would dry all of the depth would disappear. I was so frustrated with it until I put on the top epoxy coat, and all of those nights of layers I thought were lost came through to make something spectacular, that feels moving and real.
And I thought maybe somebody out there besides me might need a simple reminder that all of those layers of shadows make up something powerful enough to get you through, as long as you keep moving.