I've spent the past five years working on little drawings and little paintings partly because I put a little pain into a lot of my work and putting a little pain on a "big" canvas seemed melodramatic or narcissistic and was embarrassing to talk about. Big paintings made me remember all of the things I didn't like about myself in undergrad. Better to make things small and make a lot of things and show them really quickly to diffuse those feelings.
For the past year I've been challenging myself to make bigger paintings and drawings and compensating for the discomfort that causes me by really focusing on making images that have open interpretations and joyful color schemes. It feels sneaky and fun to paint candy and parrots--like I'm getting away with something.
Working on this AIDS quilt painting is a new path.
Sometimes I feel like I went into my MFA program ten years too early. I'm not ready to settle into anything about my artwork. I know what themes are interesting to me, but I feel like I grow even more through challenges (like this AIDS project) that are external. I am committed to being an artist--I make art every day--but I can't ever seem to settle on what exactly that means. Does that mean that I want to get famous (no) or teach full time (sure, but maybe not now--I still need all the hours I can squeeze out of every day) or start actually making a living? Those are all good things, but I'm not hungry for those things . . . yet.
I want to make paintings that compel others to reflect on emptiness without making empty paintings.
Recent advice has been to make things that are big, things that are showstopping. Things like paintings with brilliant colors that look good in slide shows . . . . . . and why not? Mapping out this AIDS piece is not only an aesthetic experience, it's also life-affirming. It makes me feel like I am doing Important Work. It makes me feel like I'm telling Everyone's Story.
Then again, the littlest birds sing the prettiest songs--those tiny paintings can still break my heart.