You know, I’ve had better weeks. As I was packing some things up to work on at the studio today, I found this piece that I started a couple of months ago. Sometimes I create happy sea stars and fun octopuses. And then sometimes, I am inspired by life and how it changes. How it pushes and pulls you in these different directions, forcing you to either change with it or hold steady and fight it. And the best solution isn’t always the same choice. Sometimes it’s about the happy things that inspire us–cute animals, beautiful scenery, vibrant colors or a great new piece of fabric. And sometimes, it’s the not-so-happy things and in those moments of pain and struggle, I often visualize images that seem to parallel what I’m going through.
One of those moments reminded me of this painting I had created years ago for a primitive styled production of La Pastorela. In this little Christmas play, there is a very literal mouth of hell. For this production, the director just wanted a very simple, fantastical design and this was my rendering for that backdrop. I don’t know why I thought about it all these years later, but I pulled it out of my stash of paintings and decided I would turn it in to a textile piece. It seemed symbolic of where my life was and I wanted to create something a little less happy-beach-day and a little more true to what I was experiencing. That said, I am an optimist and I always like to feel there is hope. I’ve been contemplating a light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel piece for quite some time, and thought it might be cool to combine those two ideas and have the tunnel be this demonic mouth of hell, as that’s what it felt like I was faced with at the time. I came across this Robert Frost quote that I felt fit so perfectly: “The best way out is always through.” If there’s one thing I’ve learned in the difficulties of my life these past few years, it’s that. There are no short cuts. There are no easy paths that will allow me to circumvent the pain and stress and sorrow that my situation brings me. It is only in walking through the fire that I will be able to pass my demons and step out of the darkness, over those sharp teeth and into the sunshine that awaits. I don’t know how long it will take to feel that fresh air again. Sometimes I feel the breeze and the warmth of the sunshine and know it is getting closer. Sometimes it seems to take forever. But, through it all, I know there’s only one way to go, and that’s to face it head on and walk straight through.
This past week has been a painful one for me and I was not feeling the desire to make cute little sea creatures of any kind. I felt like I wanted to express the darkness that I have often felt going through these difficult times. I love words and I often look at poems and quotes and other writings to see if I can find a phrase or a paragraph or a song lyric or something that seems to capture how I feel in a way I can’t seem to express. I often use these quotes as inspiration for art pieces, although it’s not usually the intention at first. But, when I find a beautifully crafted phrase that strikes a chord deep inside me, then my natural reaction is to have some type of visual image pop up in my mind, and then I sketch that idea. This natural flow was a little out of order today, but it still resulted in the beginnings of an new art piece.
Many years ago I worked on a sweet little show called La Pastorela. It is a centuries old Spanish play about the shepherds journey to Bethlehem as told in the Gospel of Luke. I got the chance to design and paint the scenery for a production of it that took place in The Adobe Chapel in Old Town, San Diego. It is a primitive show, often performed as it would have been hundreds of years ago in Mexico in chapels just like this one, and this director wanted to keep that same historic feel to the look of this production. A few days ago I came across my rendering (pictured above) of a backdrop that I designed and painted for that production. It is an image of the mouth of hell. In keeping with the tradition, I created the paintings in the style of primitive Mexican folk art, so the images were kept simple but fun and colorful and a little fantastical. When I saw this painting again, I was immediately struck with the emotions of the last few years and thought about what it means to stand at this proverbial mouth of hell and still move forward towards something better. What exactly does it mean to survive? I knew right away that I wanted to created a quilt piece very much like this painting. But, something was off. Something was missing. Hope was missing. Much of my art work is about triumph in some way, whether large or small, and this painting was missing the triumph. I have sketched a few ideas in the last few months that explore the idea of the light at the end of the tunnel. As I was thinking about what it means to pass through some type of trauma–or a gaping mouth of hell–I had the idea to combine the two images and make the light at the end of the tunnel only accessible once you’ve faced this demon. That light doesn’t always come easily, and there are so many scary things before you reach it. But, it is doable.
I did a separate sketch of the rendering, incorporating the two images together and then began assembling the textile art piece. I built the center of the mouth with the sun and the sharp teeth around it like a type of primitive bear trap. The stitching is really going to be essential on this piece, although the layering of the fabrics has already created a beautiful depth to the piece. I need more red batiks to finish, so stay tuned and watch how I use a layering technique to realize this design. Despite this being a frightening image, the concept is truly one of hope and triumph. Of walking past the things that should kill us, or in the very least, stop our progress, to a wide open hopeful life full of choices.