I nervously took my first art class in 2000 at Spring Hill College. My professor’s kind but direct handling of me and my work turned out to be exactly what I needed. Unlike my peers, I was just discovering a penchant for art– not at eight, but at eighteen.
And so for four glorious years I learned about design, lines, shapes, the toxicity of certain oil paint mediums and what a complimentary color was. I painted alongside people who grew to be my friends, or at least my art friends and, surprisingly, I seemed to fit in just fine with them despite my late start and my introversion. We played music on CDs in our shared studio spaces and occasionally ordered pizza to the art building late at night when a big project was due for critique the next morning.
The lively chats with other artists, the readily available squeeze of white paint when I’d run out, the eagerly shared piece of charcoal when I’d worn my down to dust, vanished when I walked across an outdoor stage in black cap and gown on a very hot day in May of 2004.
What followed was ten years of making very little art in my makeshift and quite solitary studios, and then another ten years of making a whole lot of art, but still very much in isolation.
That is, until last month.
I met artist Leanna Garcia when she came to check out my gallery not long after I’d opened it. It took three seconds for us to connect on things like the brand of paint we like best and the art fairs we’ve done, but most of it was of the “the struggle is real” variety that takes on a less woe-is-me tone when someone truly gets it. In his book The Four Loves, C.S. Lewis describes it this way: “Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: ‘What! You too? I thought I was the only one.”
We eventually decided to turn that joyful “you too!” of discovery into an actual piece of art. In our first session, we did more sipping of the wine than dipping of the brush, or, in our case, palette knife. I scribbled recklessly on an ipad while we proclaimed new ideas with more enthusiasm than the last. That first day our 4 foot by 4 foot painting ended with two washes- one in the center, hot pink (mine) and one on the perimeter, warm gray (Leanna’s) and not very much else. The painting wasn’t really started, but it certainly was primed.
The following sessions went more swiftly. There was still chatter, but this time it was accompanied with lots of painting. Although we are both known for our thick application of paint, I was surprised to see how differently Leanna laid it down, almost pressed into it whereas I am more inclined to scratch and scrape. Also different was her palette choices, consisting of glorious out-of-the-tube colors she was happy to apply directly to the canvas while I was still mixing the various red, yellow, and blues I learned about on my first painting class syllabus.
Although we did all the painting together, meaning at the same time, what started as a clear line between this is your part and this is mine, ended with us painting the colorful interior flowers together in a artistic dance akin to musical chairs where we’d each paint for a minute or two on one section and then rotate to the next to continue the work of the other. So while Leanna solely painted the white exterior flowers and I solely formed the birds, the blossoms and the leaves we both contributed to in a kind of crescendo towards the painting’s conclusion.
At the opening night of our exhibit entitles “Connection” where we displayed “Together” for the first time alongside a joint exhibition of our individual works, we kept hearing the same thing: ya’ll are so similar and yet so very different.
Which is the human condition, is it not? And maybe the appreciation of which might be the antidote to many of this world’s woes. When we fail to see our differences, we miss rich opportunities to grow, to learn, to expand. When we neglect our sameness, do we not belittle and oppress?
“Together” is a celebration of unity and diversity. It is learning about what we share in common and gaining new insights into that which we do not.
Since our project, I have invested in some of the beautiful paint colors Leanna introduced to me– a small change that has enlivened my current paintings and added a new spark to my studio time. I am excited by the new color combinations and possibilities and am enjoying the reprieve from constantly mixing all my colors simply because that was the way I first learned to do it those many years ago. Small changes. Big impact.
It’s taken me a while to really reflect on the experience of working alongside another artist again after so many years of going at it alone. The more I look at our final piece, the more I see in it the blessing that has been the friendships in my life and the ways they’ve engendered something beautiful, often times from darkness, lonlieness, or uncertainty.
After trying to for weeks now, I was finally able to write the following blessing to accompany the painting, prints of which will be available soon. Each print will come with a copy of the blessing, but if you’d like a free printable version now, just enter your email below and I’ll send you a download.
A Blessing for a Friend
Bless you, dear friend
For sitting in the dark with me
Cupping your hands around
this fragile light
Until a flame flickered
Flew out towards some newness
Like a hummingbird to a fresh bloom
May you know:
The comfort of companionship
The endlessness of hope
Universes we can uncover and create
Written by Denise Hopkins
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