Art Therapy



“With a Little Luck” 18×24, oil on canvas [creativ_button url=”” icon=”” label=”Buy Now” colour=”red” colour_custom=”” size=”medium” edge=”straight” target=”_self”]

When I first started painting full time, I wrote a lot about my divorce; it was, after all, the catalyst for my newfound career ambitions. Eventually, I started writing more about the paintings themselves, the process, and the business of it all. In many ways, I have healed from what was the “dark ages”. In many ways, I’m no longer angry. I’m definitely not nearly as afraid. My God, I remember constant fear. 

I’ve always been one to paint on top of old paintings, and I’m increasingly running out of them.  

IMG_0603The image on the left was the one: the old canvas that I have, for nearly three years, envisioned painting over. In 2014, I thought it would be therapeutic to paint over an old painting of my ex-husband and me, and this was the one I imagined transforming. But instead, I opted for another old painting of us mostly because it was right in front of me when the moment struck (read about it here). This is the one that was suppose to be the life-altering, profound moment in which I’d face the past and forge a future.

I didn’t actually pull out this particular canvas until last Friday, August 21, 2015. Similar to my first attempt at this, I was not planning to do it at all but rather finished my current painting and decided against opening a fresh new canvas. I scrounged around for something old I could use. I’d done two brush paintings in a row and was in the mood to use my palette knives. Old, bumpy surfaces are good for that sort of thing.

So when I found it, I thought, okay then, today is the day. This painting was my wedding gift to my ex-husband. Infused with meaning, it had to be worth revisiting.

The last time I painted over an image of us, I wrote about how un-profound I’d found the experience.  The image on top of an image wasn’t about the symbolic meaning inherent in the process or the psychological healing that symbolism brought about. It was about the art itself. It was about what I was becoming– a “real” artist. The kind that makes real art often. The only artists who aren’t real are the ones who don’t ever really make anything. The only art that isn’t real is the kind that stays inside the mind and never gets out.

The July 10 painting that eventually turned into a heron.

This painting was more important to me than the one from July 10, 2014. It was a gift. One that had been rejected. In a lot of ways it, like the marriage, was always more important to me than it was to my ex-husband. And for all my shortcomings and outright failures, I think I was a gift, too. One he rejected.

In the pile of stuff, the remnants of our home together, I had this painting. One he obviously didn’t want. One I’d painstakingly made and offered. In comparison to the brokenness all around me, it seems odd that his rejection of this painting bothered me so much. Why would a person who doesn’t want a marriage, want to keep an image of one?

I suppose I saw myself in what’d I’d made. And focusing on his rejection of the painting was easier than focusing on his rejection of me. 

IMG_1563When I put the painting on the easel, before I’d annihilated it with pale green/blue paint, I kind of admired it. I think of my artist self (in somewhat grandiose terms) as having made infinite linear progress so I was surprised to see some artistic virtue in something I’d made so long ago. But it was there. In the light on our faces, the folds of our clothes.

It took me a second to start not because of the content of the image but because there was some beauty there, and I was ever-so-slightly hesitant to “erase” it. If you can’t tell, I’m headed down that metaphor road and there’s just no stopping me. I can’t seem to help myself.

Just like on July 10, 2014 I didn’t really care what I painted on top, just that I painted something. And just like on July 10, 2014, I painted a bird because, after all, that’s pretty much what I do now.

But unlike on July 10, 2014 this time, I found the symbolic experience ever-so-slightly profound.

Here’s why:

  1. What’s underneath isn’t erased: My first thought as I painted the background. I was adding color. The bumps of paint from the original painting would still be in my new painting. In fact, the entire old painting was still there, underneath. My past isn’t erasable. And thank God for that because I never would have gotten here without going there. For every good Friday, there can be an Easter Sunday. I cling to the idea of resurrection. Without it, I don’t know how to function in this world. It’s not about erasure but transformation.
  2. Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results= insanity. It took me three times to sketch the cardinal. I kept starting over only to repeat my mistakes. It wasn’t until I started at the bottom of the bird IMG_1565instead of at the top, that I finally got it. I needed a new starting point. After my divorce, I kept starting at the same place mentally: “this is terrible because… “ It wasn’t until I could reframe it into “I can rebuild this situation into a beautiful thing by…” that my depression lifted and I found my old happiness. Well, not exactly the old happiness. A newer, more alive happiness. A resurrected one.
  3. Metaphors only get you so far. After the initial revelations, it was, once again, all about the painting. Some of it came easily. Some of it was a downright struggle. Looking at it finished, I’m still not exactly sure how I feel about it. What I do know is that painting is my purpose. It is the vehicle through which I am changed and healed. It involves as much action as it does contemplation. Painting represents many things to me but, at the end of the day, does and can stand only for itself. Here is a painting. The process of making it reminded me of other things and yet, still, it’s just a painting.                                                                 

And paintings are powerful things.

Picture of Denise Hopkins

Denise Hopkins

August 28, 2015

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