Do artist brains work differently?
I don't think so, but I only have experience with the one brain.
A psychiatrist friend of mine disagrees. She tells me I see the world in a unique way.
As an experiment, join me for a walk through of the conception of my painting series, Marking Time.
It began in the car listening to an NPR radio broadcast about the connection between
language and color. I was working on a solo show and decided to break from those preparations
and explore ways that language limits how we perceive the world. I am not fond of limits.
The dance of questions began unbidden.
Does language impact what I see? Is color a social construct?
I see blue. You see blue. Are we seeing the same thing?
I don't want my capacity to experience colors to be limited!
Red, yellow, and blue, three primary colors, is an indisputable fact. Right?
Not right. Cyan, yellow, and magenta have skin in that game.
The way we classify color temperature is not even the same across cultural lines. AUGH!
Language also impacts what we are capable of comprehending.
Understanding is limited by vocabulary. The American vocabulary is quickly shrinking.
We are lesser for that educational crime.
Without vocabulary to express a concept, what happens to that idea?
Can it exist beyond the mind? Can it even exist within the mind without words for it to
embody? Are we more than our words? Words are not universal. How does one interpret poetry
from one language to another without an equivalent word? Like plants and animals, languages
risk extinction. The loss of a language is unspeakable.
Does fit in a discussion about art? Is art a language? If so, it is a language interpreted
through individual experience. Individual interpretation of and experience with a piece of art is
beyond the artist's grasp. Is it possible for art to hold a place where there are no words?
What of Music? Dance? Literature? What happens to the stories when there is no longer a
language to share them? Can our artists carry something of the story forward? I lack the
vocabulary to answer. The answer lays some place between yes and no.
We learn "our" colors before we learn to tie our shoes (or Velcro them.) In many languages,
the linguistic difference between blue and green is referential; blue like the sky or blue
like a leaf. The Himba tribe in northern Namibia organizes color in such a way that they
can perceive greens I am incapable of distinguishing. In English we say, "eat your greens."
In Japanese, vegetables "smell of blue."
Like the Leaf
48 x 48
Like the Sky and Like the Leaf were created as I pondered of the idea that someone might
experience my art so differently than I experience it.
What seemingly centralized our global understanding of a color was a child's toy. Crayons,
those little boxes of wax pigment sticks, began the standardization of color across
cultures in 1917.I have never had a conversation about color with someone who categories color
differently from my Crayola box understanding of color, but I hope to. With that
little paper box of Crayolas, did the world become larger or smaller?
I think smaller.
Every Morning came was the first of the Marking Time series. I did not recognize it as
a series, but I did recognize it as new for me. Prior to NYE 2019, the brisk hash marks
had not appeared. A new mark for a new year. Surprised, I trusted the process and followed
72 x 48
The rhythm of the mark making resonates with me. Life abounds in repetitive marks. Get up.
Brush your teeth. Make the coffee. Feed the dog. Grab a bagel. Go to work. Clock in. Clock
out. Go home. Eat. Feed the dog. Watch a show. Brush your teeth. Go to bed.
Someone asks, "What did you do this week?" and I freeze. What, what DID I do this week?
I can't remember. I AM WASTING MY LIFE! Marking Time is helping me through the existential
crisis of answering this question.
Asked what I have been doing during the quarantine, I answered, quite sincerely, "Nothing."
My husband cleared his throat and reminded me that it was not true. What about the 50 Rose
Portrait drawings? What about the 25+ Rose Portrait paintings. (If my little rose bush
holds out, my goal is at least 50 paintings.)
The Rose Portraits are my response to the lives lost and lives shattered through unchecked
police violence. 100% of sales of the Rose Portraits will be donated to the Equal Justice
How does that relate to the Marking Time series? Because making is such a daily part of my
life, if I am not careful, it becomes invisible. Due to various circumstances, I have been
unable to work on my large-scale Marking Time paintings for several months. Focusing on
what I was NOT doing, I failed to recognize what I was doing. I was not being "present"
in the moment. As soon as one piece is complete, I set it aside and start another. Out of
sight, out of mind. I forget to savor the beauty that is not only the completed work, but
the process. What did I do this week? Nothing. Actually...nothing is incorrect.
Life the Flame
60 x 60
The ordinary becomes invisible. And if not invisible, unappreciated. This is a life issue,
not an artist issue. Art imitates life. I hope my life can embrace the story of Marking
Time. I see these paintings as a reminder to myself, an invitation for us, to see again.
To explore colors we don't have the language to comprehend. To wrestle beauty from chaos.
To recognize beauty that is not pretty. Changing that diaper is a beautiful thing. It means
all the world to the wearer. Thank you. Marking Time celebrates the tenacity required to
get up and do it again. The grace to risk the chance that beauty is even possible.
The rhythm of the marks, the rhythm of our days, can take two paths. They can become
repetitive and boring. The sameness becoming a burden and an idol. Horror and panic set
in when a mark does not quite line up.
Or the rhythm can embody a beat that is celebratory and meditative. In the mundane
repetition, the mind is free to explore, to dance, to make new connections. Language,
color, spirit, art, music, movement, breath.
Early in my parenting journey I heard Beth Alves share how she turned daily chores into
her prayer time. Prayed for family when she washed the dishes. Prayed for her enemies when
she cleaned the toilet. I appropriated her practice 30 years ago and it has carried me
through the good, the bad, and the very very ugly.
72 x 48
When I paint, I ask of the binder and pigment to carry hope from my heart to yours.
As you step forward into the painting to explore the individual marks, you may be able to
recognize the beauty in the rhythms you are living. Each mark carries with it an admonition
to keep going. Each mark celebrates the bravery it takes to live life ONE More Day. And
then do it again. One. More. Day.
Each mark is unique and each is part of a greater whole. An individual mark matters and
yet the weight carried by a single mark is lessened when seen as part of the whole.
Days are like that. Monumental and yet insignificant.
A painting reveals both the life of the painter and the life of the viewer. We each carry
a lifetime of days. A lifetime of marks. We do not choose the number of our days any
more than I choose the number of marks to complete a painting. All I can do is make my
marks until it was complete. That is all any of us can do.
Here, I stop and acknowledge that life can really and truly stink. Life is not easy. In
my almost 60 years I have seen pain break people. I have seen others find a way forward and
continue to make their marks. The Marking Time paintings ask that you consider the
possibility that beauty is more than pretty.
In uncertain times, the Marking Time series is a declaration of hope.
60 x 48
Gwen Meharg, artist
Marking Time paintings and Rose Portraits available for viewing and purchase at www.GwenMeharg.com
Sign up for the occasional newsletter to keep informed and entertained.