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Art As Therapy?

Updated: Mar 31


I don't know if this happens to anyone else but when I'm painting, stuff comes up. Like, old memories I'd forgotten about, some good, some I'd rather stay forgotten. Maybe it's the long quiet hours at the easel with nothing to do but think. Painting is a meditation, I've heard it before, but it really is.

This painting is one of the pieces that came out of losing one of our houses in Hurricane Ian a year and a half ago. Not all of the stories around that time were awful though. There were some funny ones.

Mom's Christmas Gnome tree topper was in a plastic tub on the very top shelf in the shed. The shed lost its roof and the tub lost its lid during the worst of the storm. Somehow the gnome held on during the night and didn't fly out of the bin, it just stayed pinned, watching the horror of it all. In the eyewall of Hurricane Ian for 8 hours, where they clocked 200 mph winds.

He looks pretty rough, but he's a survivor. Cross Bill The Cat and Grinch Santa run through a garbage disposal and you start to get a picture where he is right now in his recovery journey. But he's our hero, and he sat proudly on our tree that year and will every year from now on. Mad respect Mr. Gnome. He's seen stuff we can only imagine.

We had neighbors with homes that had nothing left but their refrigerators, we were lucky to only lose only one of two houses. The roof was gone but it took in too much water and wind damage and was totaled. Half the homes where we lived were lost. Not far south of us there were areas where they were all lost. For days we picked up giant pieces of wall, hunks of metal, then it was smaller things.

One day I looked down in the neighbor's yard and there was this blender lying there. I picked it up and set it on a table in the driveway. Who knows whose blender it was, it could've blown there from miles away. You just want to keep moving, not focus on the helicopters and the disaster vehicles. You know they're looking for missing people.

Then when my dad was getting down to the really small stuff, I realized he'd made quite a beautiful still life with a glue stick and some colorful rubber bands on this white plastic table in the driveway. So naturally, I grabbed my plein air kit and started painting it. The morning light was coming in so perfectly through the lattice work that ran along the driveway.

He kept adding to the setup completely unaware that he was changing what I was looking at. I would just go move it back. It was like we were all in a trance. At one point he put this pink plastic clothes pin down. It was so nostalgic it felt like it had blown there from the 70s. I knew I would do lots of studies of this stuff at some point.

It's taken me a year and a half to finish this piece for some reason, and other paintings that I started around that time have taken even longer. It's the symbolism and other things that just come up while I'm working on them. The video plays on repeat in my memory, my dad wandering around the yard till his hands were full and then just dumping everything onto tables. For days we did this. The neighbors were all out doing it too. None of the stuff we were picking up was ours and we knew it. It was like we were stewarding it somehow, leaving it in our driveways like the rightful owners were going to somehow come and get it in the night. It was futile but we felt productive.

The helicopters circling overhead and the relentless and unapologetic blue sky made me feel anxious all the time. The weather was so perfect in those days it was surreal. It made it difficult to imagine that it could have ever been any other way, like how did all this happen? It made it feel more like a bombing. The sun felt like an insult.

I wanted to capture that feeling of tension in the painting (because who doesn't want that feeling all the time?) so I used a hot pink under painting and skewed the perspective of each rubber band separately just slightly to make them feel like they are sliding off that table. Like Cezanne and those oranges, just a little? It feels to me more how it felt then.

And just when I thought I was almost finished with this painting, another memory emerged a few days ago while I was working. It just bubbled up while I painted. A couple of weeks into our zombie labors I was opening tubs and boxes that had been in the shed. They had all filled with water at some point and were beginning to mold badly so I had on a full respirator and goggles, basically a hazmat suit.

I pulled the lid off a huge tub marked Jenny photos that my parents had been nudging me to get out of their house since my 20s, my brother has twice as many. We're terrible children. Well, they're out of there now mom and dad. This particular tub was filed with photos and right on top of the pile sat a photo from the mid 80s of my friend Dave wearing a silver plastic Happy New Year Tiera, with this hilarious grin, holding up a bottle of Moet. I scream laughed into my respirator, then looked around guiltily and slammed the lid shut. I felt like I'd just done something horrible, laughed at a funeral or much worse.

I looked around, I don't think I'd heard anyone laugh in weeks. No one heard me but I felt like it was really inappropriate and I apparently blocked the memory until now. I wish I would've been in better shape mentally at the time and realized it's okay to laugh during times like that. It's important to if you can. It's what saves us.

I wish I would've had the strength to look through some of the photos but I was in no shape at the time. I wish I could've taken a cell pic and messaged it to my friend before the whole lot had to be pitched without even being looked at. Who knows what was in there? He would've laughed to see it now I'm sure. He probably doesn't have that many pictures of himself in a tiara.

I'm glad painting slows my thoughts enough so I can process these things and I'm glad I have a couple good memories from the hurricane at least and I'm grateful I took a few moments to paint a little during that time.

I've got a couple other hurricane paintings going now. They take longer but they're worth it.

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Gosh, I wish we were able to be together enough to be BFF’s. Because.

Mar 30
Replying to

I know Cindy! We need to go out painting sometime!


Beautifully written and therapeutic, especially because I’ve just returned from spending two weeks sorting my mother’s house. Having sent 5 trailer loads to the dump and several more to the burn pile, I can only hope I managed to save most of the really important stuff. I know it’s not the same as cleaning up after a natural disaster where you have fewer choices regarding what to save and what not, but I can appreciated the parallels none the less.

Mar 28
Replying to

Oh that's so hard too, I think that hits a lot of the same feelings for sure. You're in that same fog and numbness, that nostalgia that's more often pain than pleasure. It's still a wrecking ball to the gut. Look at the time and love you put into your incredible artwork. I wonder if that experience is somehow adding something to your work? Or if your work is in some way helping you process the experience? It was both for me, looking back.

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