Westerly Bottles - A Saga
Getting back into painting has been a therapeutic process for me for many reasons, which I might blog about at some point but I'm not quite there with it yet. Suffice to say, though, that dusting off this long dormant talent has brought me back to a part of myself that I thought I'd lost, and I'm so grateful I worked through that block. It hasn't been easy, but it's been so worth it. The saga of this Westerly Bottles painting became a bit of a metaphor for the process, and it helped shift my perspective on life a bit.
I've had these bottles in my curio cabinet for the last 10 years, and my mom had them in her curio cabinet for almost 20 years before that. My aunt used to live at Westerly, an historic
house in Piffard, NY, and these bottles were pulled from an old creek bed on the property. Mom, Grandma, my aunt and my sisters and I would do "archeological digs" in that creek bed when we'd visit back in the 80's, and we found all sorts of bottles, silverware, broken
dishes, glass items and such. The creek was not too far from the old kitchen of the house, so it was likely the dumping grounds for used items back in the day. For us, it was treasure!
This past summer, after working on a series of brightly colored still life paintings and drawings, I decided I wanted to do something a little moodier, to match my own aesthetic
and to work out some of the emotions that I had been experiencing while learning to live with chronic illness. I wanted it to be beautiful but haunting, dark but with a glowing ray of light. So I pulled some things out of my curio cabinet and set up a little photo studio on my kitchen table. The one that called to me the most was this one, with the old bottles, all frosted and weathered from being tumbled in a creek bed, but even more beautiful for it. The glowing white of the flowers, the deep soothing teal of the background, the two little clear, new bottles in the foreground waiting to be filled. I decided to paint this for myself and hang it in my apartment, to gaze upon and think of these things. So, I painted it and I loved it, but it is no longer mine - the saga continues.
My awesome instructor Mina encouraged me to enter the painting in the Burbank Art Association fall show. I haven't entered any of my paintings in an art show since high school, as I stopped painting in earnest shortly after college when life got too busy with production work and, well, life. I didn't think I was ready emotionally to put my work out there with professionals, but Mina did, so I decided what the heck, I'll do it. I wasn't expecting anything other than to go to the gallery and see my painting on the wall and be glad I did something out of my comfort zone.
I found a frame on Amazon and ordered it, and then hand painted it to match the mood of the painting - black, ornate, with touches of oxidized copper on the flourishes to make it feel like it was pulled out of an old, decrepit mansion or something. I finished the painting a week before the art drop-off for the show, and had to wait for it to dry so I could varnish it. I varnished it the day before, and would have to frame it that morning before the noon deadline. I had the time, and the means, and the motivation. I also had a bad chronic illness day, and my hands just weren't working like they should be. And when I went to frame the piece that morning, the drill slipped ...
Now, after all the work and angst and doubt, there was a freakin' hole through my freakin' painting.
I panicked, and then laughed, and then cried, and then laughed again, because, of course that happened. Of course Fibromyalgia would have a say in this piece. It was part of the angst that led to the creation of it, after all; why shouldn't it have its own signature on the painting? I calmed myself down and tried to look at it logically. If I pushed the cardboard back through the hole, and patched the canvas flap with some glue, and repainted that corner, I could still salvage it somewhat. The painting would be forever flawed, but hey, aren't we all? I managed to get it as fixed as I could, just in time to drop it off - still with wet paint in that corner - 5 minutes before the deadline. Then I went and bought some chocolate cake and ate it and felt a bit better. Because chocolate.
A few days later, Bryan and I went to the gallery show opening. We had only just joined the BAA a couple of months before, and so it was a good time seeing everyone and their work. When we were looking for our pieces in the program to find where they were located in the gallery, Bryan noticed something that I hadn't - my name and painting were listed in the winners section. I didn't even know it was a prize-awarding show when I entered - and somehow, despite my insecurities and the hole in the painting, Westerly Bottles had been selected as third place in the still life category. I was gobsmacked! I truly couldn't believe it. When I was in high school, I used to win ribbons for my art - often first or second place - and I was always grateful but I didn't doubt my art like I do now. To win anything at this stage was stunning to me, and a stark reminder that there once was a time where I didn't doubt myself, I just enjoyed the process. Back then, I was painting and drawing all the time - practice being the key word there. And now I've gotten back into a regular practice, and things like this are happening. Funny, that. I guess I needed all of this to remind me.
For the rest of the night, and the following weeks while the show ran, I was beaming with the feeling that maybe I had finally started to unearth that part of me that didn't use to judge myself so harshly. She's a little weathered and frosted from being tumbled in the creek of life, but she's even more beautiful for it.
When the show ended, I went to pick up my painting on the designated day. I walked into the gallery and saw it hanging on the wall, still with the little gold sticker that indicated it was a winner. I had to check in at the front table before I could collect my painting, and so I gave my name and waited as the docent looked through the roster to find me. And then, she popped her head up and said "Ah. Here - you're all set," and handed me a check. I blinked, and must have looked really confused because she added "Your painting sold - congratulations! Here's your check. You're good to go."
When I filled out the form for the show, I put an arbitrary dollar amount in the section that asked for the selling price. It was what I considered a high dollar amount that I didn't think anyone would pay for my painting. I had intended to keep it and have it as a reminder of what I had learned from this process, and also, because I just loved it. I never, in a million years, thought it would sell. But it had. And now I was without it, but validated in a whole different way.
It seems silly, but I went over and said goodbye to the painting before I left with my check. I just kind of had to, you know? I later related the whole story to a friend, and he said "well of course you had to let the painting go. It was a physical goodbye to all the things that blocked you and led you to that point. It's fitting." And you know what? He's right. It is fitting.
Thankfully, I had the foresight to do a high resolution scan of the painting when it was finished - even before the hole happened - and I have a print of it to admire whenever I like to. I'm glad for the whole experience. It taught me so much, and it brought me to a place where the doubts aren't so loud, the angst is lessened, and most importantly - the process is fun again.
Progress photos of the painting process of Westerly Bottles: