Not long before my manic episode in August ’19, I started using watercolor paints in addition to sticks and pastels. My drawing teacher in college told me one day, “You want to paint,” upon observing the way I drew, and she was right: I was fascinated by the act of painting, though it would be years before I decided to take it up, just for shits and grins to see what happened. My earliest efforts were mostly experimental so I could get familiar with the paints and brushes, but there were some interesting results.
These were all done with regular or gouache watercolor paints, and I couldn’t help but notice the prevalence of fire. It looked like dragon breath to me. The best thing was how much fun it was to do: I got an immense amount of happiness out of learning how to blend and spread the colors around to get different effects. The thing is, watercolors and gouache aren’t really intended for the kind of painting I was doing: I wasn’t diluting it and was going through a lot of paint. So one night I decided to join my son in trying out the acrylic paints, with the following result:
Like most of my art, I had no particular notion of what I was doing when I began, and got a lot of satisfaction out of the act as well as the result of the painting. Thus I became somewhat obsessed with painting and began spending a lot of time doing it. I consider it fortuitous that I began painting when I did, because I found it to be therapeutic at a very difficult time, and in hindsight, useful for analyzing my mental state at the time. They were mostly abstract explorations of color and flow, but they seemed emotionally expressive to me. I noticed a fondness for contrasting yellow and orange with blue.
The theme of a regeneration or rebirth of sorts was present in the art I did around the time of the August ’19 manic episode. While I was in the hospital, I spent several hours working on this piece, which was inspired by the lotus patterns in much of the mehndi work I used to do. It also reminded me of the progression of the sephiroth up the Qabalistic Tree of Life.
Following my hospitalizations, I felt wrecked, and these two pieces that were done much earlier in the year reflected how I felt. The first reminds me of geological processes and flowing lava, representing that “destroyed” feeling, while the other represents how “ghostly” I felt for some of what went down between my ears. I’m not sure how it is that my subconscious artistic self seems to sometimes know ahead of time what’s going to happen to me, or if it just seems that way, but I find the phenomenon fascinating.
I also felt very “divided”, in more than one way, which is represented by this piece that is full of different contrasts in form as well as color. It also reminds me of dividing cells, which is a life-sustaining process, and growth is uncomfortable sometimes, to say the least. It would also foreshadow a feeling of being “pulled apart” during the episode.
Other pieces from springtime show a progression of sorts and are fairly primordial in nature, featuring a lot of elemental shapes and forces: rolling hills, a stream, what appears to be lightning, and shapes suggestive of trees and the Sun and Moon. I found the egg shapes significant because they seemed to be a repeating theme, and also because of some visions I’d had in the Fall of ’18 that involved dragon eggs. All but the first two were done without thought as to the final image. A number of the visions I had during the August episode were reminiscent of these pieces, which made more sense to me after the fact.
I resumed regular painting after coming home from the hospital, and my favorite piece is one I call “Prime Mover”, after Aristotle’s concept of a Creator that sets things in motion and then just sits back to let them unfold. It’s also the title of one of my favorite Rush songs.
I was reminded of a flight of birds or other winged creatures. Unfortunately, the first hospital visit didn’t completely stabilize me, so I had to go a second time at the end of September, after which I was very depressed, angry, and conflicted. My art reflected this with its contrasting yet somehow muddled colors and completely vague shapes. I was painting just to paint and have something to do.
After a month or so, though, I was feeling better, and more concrete themes emerged once again, such as feathers and eyes. Clearly part of me was still hung up on dragons and phoenixes. Sometimes I would do a piece, and then do another one perhaps weeks later and realize they belonged together. I call them “accidental diptychs”. This is one such set. After the second one was finished, I clearly saw a closed and open eye.
I also continued making what my husband and a friend called “emotional landscapes” since my pieces looked rather like landscapes (or seascapes) “without location”, as my friend put it.
To me they represented my continually “divided” feeling, as well as my general malaise, which felt a little like drowning, or at least treading water. Indeed, I would do an entire series of what I call the “underwater sunlight” paintings because of their deep blues and hints of watery light from above.
The dragon made a reappearance as well, to my eyes anyway:
Finally, themes of a re-emergence of sorts manifested in the motifs, with brighter blues and other colors, though no less chaotic in appearance. Indeed, the bottom right image is called “Soulstorm”, as it reminds me of a tornado. By this time, my depression was lifting, though, and I was feeling better, due in no small part to getting to reduce one of my more debilitating medications. You can still see something of a “division” in all of these paintings, though.
In my next post, I’ll cover the latest phase of my art, in which I seem to be moving away from the need to blend everything and have fuzzy boundaries between all colors and areas.