The Year That Killed

The past 12 months were experienced with equal amount of tears and laughter. My latest painting deals with the turbulent time surrounding my divorce and on-going efforts to protect my children. Cluster Fail is about me trying to hold everything together in my life over the past year; the year that nearly killed me. Starting with a summer of torment, a domestic violence trial, and culminating with the judge revoking my ex’s visitation rights. His treatment of my daughters was so horrific that one of them threatened to stab herself in the leg to get away from him. She imagined that if she were sent to the emergency room, she wouldn’t have to see him. Listening to her testimony in court was one of the most painful experiences I’ve ever endured. This painting is about my failure to keep a healthy weight, my failure to protect my children from trauma, and the failure of the system to protect all three of us.


Cluster Fail, 2016, acrylic on canvas, 72″ x 48″

I explore this initial failure of the justice system in my piece Cluster (Collapse). As I recalled in a previous post, this piece is about the night I called the police after a domestic violence incident in my home. After we were separated and during the time he refused to move out, my ex grabbed my wrist during a violent outburst terrifying myself and my children. When the police arrived, they failed to include the physical violence in their report. A few days later, my request for a restraining order was denied partly due to this omission. I first collapsed in the bathroom of the court house unable to compose myself or even walk to my car. After drying up my tears, I managed to make it to the car park where I collapsed again on the grass outside the entrance. The clump or mass of pill-like, capsule shapes in this painting represent how in spite of my best efforts to keep it together and hold my life intact, the explosion of events was out of my control.


Cluster (Collapse), 2016, acrylic on panel, 37″ x 48″, with chair installation

I had two chairs upholstered in a fabric I designed of my ex grabbing my wrist. These chairs represent the support that did not exist for me that day; a symbolic representation of catching that falling woman. Installed facing each other, the chairs act as a vehicle for viewers to sit across from another person forcing a dialogue about domestic violence.


Cluster (Collapse), detail of chair fabric

Cluster (Silent Sobbing) reflects the moment I learned that my ex was planning to take me to court for full custody of my girls after he was ordered removed from the house. Even though I had obtained a restraining order, was awarded temporary full custody and I knew it was impossible that my children would be taken away from me, the intense shock of the moment was acute. This painting is about that moment and the agonizing but silent sobbing of catching my breath. The plush sculpture below is fabric I designed based on the IKEA step stool that my younger daughter insisted on taking with us as we were fleeing our home the night of the 911 call. The panic of the moment forced me to rely on my young girls to pack their own bags with essentials as I waited for the police to arrive. In my haste, I did not check the luggage until we arrived at my friend’s house. As we unpacked, I realized that in addition to the IKEA stool, my younger daughter’s suitcase was mostly filled with her beloved stuffed animals.


Cluster (Silent Sobbing), 2016, acrylic on panel, 40″ x 120″ (panel size), with plush sculpture installation

The sculpture is rendered in large pillow-like shapes to reflect the moment I had to flee my home and leave behind any sense of normalcy I or my children had of domestic happiness. This included being in our own home in our own beds; a basic comfort children depend on for security. The plush sculpture also represents the emotional need to go to sleep for a long duration of time.


Cluster (Silent Sobbing), detail of IKEA step stool fabric

First I spray painted white a dozen or so IKEA step stools then stacked them in a pyramid. After photographing the stools, I digitally created a mirror image and printed the design on upholstery fabric. I sewed the 10 yards of fabric into two 15 foot elongated, pillow-like shapes. Like the chair installation, I hope to encourage viewers to touch, lie down, or even change the shape of the sculpture.

This work for me has become more than just the painting and sculpture of the past. This work has become something deeper; something bigger than just making art. I was reading an article in the New Yorker and an excerpt resonated not only a rare truth in the game of buying and selling work but also the importance of valuing art devoid of gimmicks:

“In the past decade, the prices for postwar works have sometimes exceeded those for early-twentieth-century masterpieces. “We would always say, ‘Warhol is the Picasso of our time,’ and then at some point you realized that Warhol was more expensive than Picasso,” Gouzer told me. “In French, we have this expression—‘You have to put the church back in the middle of the town.’ In our world, everything articulates somehow around Picasso, so I started thinking we should bring Picasso back into the middle of the town.”

While I know this curator’s job is to sell work for the highest price, the quote hit a nerve. I hope to get my work back into the middle of the town. Otherwise I might have to move.

This month’s music: Sam Wills



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