Out of the Dark, Comes the Light

There’s no mistaking, this is a strange unsettling unchartered time. And I had to really sit back and think about how I wanted to write this post. I know words have power, and I want to use the right words to try and convey my true thoughts. So, please, bear with me. Out of everything that’s happening, the one thing that I’m learning is that I have a lot to learn. I do welcome the schooling that comes with that realization, perhaps as uncomfortable as it may be. Hopefully, it will get me to a better place of understanding.

Most of you know that I’m originally from England, a ‘recent’ transplant – although not really, I’ve been here since 1989 – so who am I trying to kid with ‘recent’? (Clearly, I’m still on the quest to remain young!). And I tell you this, to perhaps highlight the fact that the knowledge base I have of America has only been garnered since I arrived here. In England, a country with centuries upon centuries of history, we were taught about the Vikings, and the Normans, the Saxons, the Bayeux Tapestry. We never touched on American history because, well…we just had so much of our own to explore and explain.

And even while in the US colleges, I didn’t take any history classes – rather I choose to focus on my specific degree: clinical social work. In retrospect, I wish I had been open to learning more, reading more, listening more – because today, I feel ill-prepared and I have a great yearning to absorb as much information as I can. It’s my hope that, eventually, my owning up to a certain level of ignorance will serve me well – and I’ll become more informed, more tolerant, more…just more – a better version of who I am today.

What I am learning about myself is that in uncertain times, I will tend to migrate to my work and surround myself with beautiful imaginary. I’m finding that when I feel emotionally attached to a certain narrative, I often do my best work. This surely helps my sanity. And my family is appreciative of that.

Part of my ‘ignorance’ (for lack of a better word) is that while I’ve always searched for beautiful paintings – I’ve always stayed in my ‘comfort zone’, which primarily involves oil paintings depicting caucasian women. I’m not apologetic of those choices, because ultimately I still think I’ve used beautiful paintings, but I will own that I fell short in searching for other genres – and in retrospect, I think I limited myself.

This is a dresser that I picked up last week. A beautiful post-depression dresser, gorgeous detailing simply crying out for an image. And I will say that I’m sure there will be people who weep over the fact that I painted over the striped veneer – but honestly, this type of veneer doesn’t really appeal to me. The burl wood – OK, now you’re talking. I’m going to preserve that!

And yes, that is a black velvet Elvis in the background.

Now, generally, I would go to my favorites – perhaps the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, maybe my buddy Monet? But given the current climate that would feel as though I wasn’t willing to grow creativity and emotionally. And I’m learning that I want my art to be a reflection of who I am – and that involves learning more about American history (amongst other things. The list is a long one!). Knowing that Juneteenth was coming up (and given the current unrest) I wanted to delve into African-American history. And Boy oh Boy! I was blown away by this particular painting.

The Thankful Poor 1894

It’s called ‘The Thankful Poor’ painted by Henry Ossawa Tanner in 1894. And on a side note, Tanner was the first African American to gain international success as a painter. Rather than the stereotypical depictions of the African American community in the day, he choose to paint a realistic version of the day to day life of black Americans. This painting was inspired by a photograph he had taken in Atlanta, of a grandfather and his grandson, a few years early.

I know when an image is the ‘one’ when it stops me in my tracks. It kinda just pulls me in, and every other painting I see simply pales in comparison. What I loved about the painting is that it was generational; meaning it spoke of the familial connection with have with our elders, and it has a very calming and peaceful element; two males praying, being thankful for what they had – perhaps the meal in front of them, maybe just the joy of being able to have that time together? Whatever the reason, it touched me on a visceral as well as an emotional level. For me, it represented people living with dignity – and being portrayed in a dignified manner.

Progress? But that shiny gold leaf has to be muted down!

The piece itself came about very effortlessly, and trust me, I love when that happens. While the image was perfect for the time, I had to think about what color to use on the body of the dresser. Often I pull colors from the paintings themselves, but sometimes I use colors to reflect a certain mood. If I want high energy I’ll go with reds/oranges etc, a calming theme will likely see me favoring blues/greens. Hopeful/joyful maybe I’ll go with a yellow palette. I stared at this painting for a long time. If you notice, the grandfather is painted with dark tones, almost in the shadows – while the young boy was surrounded by light yellow tones. For me, this represented the dark history that the grandfather had endured, but he was looking at the more hopeful colors of his grandson. So I wanted dark and light in the piece – and surely, those two colors would be a stark contrast on a piece of furniture – and not give the calming element that I wanted.

So – I started to think about dark colors. Sure I could do a dark blue/dark green – but meh, too trendy. Black? Too harsh and cold. Brown – beautiful, soft, rich, earthy brown. Yes, YES YES!!! Was I thinking about the richness of the brown skin? Nope, strangely that didn’t even cross my mind. What touched me was 1: brown is the color of the earth – we all belong here, and many generations of Americans have broken their backs working that earth so that things can grow in it – and to grow you need to nurture it (and more importantly, perhaps each other). 2: You can throw as many different colors together and ultimately what you’ll always end up with brown. THAT is what I wanted to try and express, we need diversity to get to the gorgeous richness. Brown is the color of complete inclusion. Period. Am I being hokey? Talking nonsense? Sure, you can think that. I don’t. OK, maybe I did at first when the analogy came to me. But the longer I thought about it, the truer it became.

I had to use a rich brown. And then, I needed to add the light – a soft yellow in the highlights. Because, hopefully, light will always lead the way to a better place. Please tell me this is so. Please. I feel that I need that type of hope. I need that reassurance that we’re on the right path to become a better society – a more caring society. A true community.

The final touch for the piece was in the molding. The original wood molding needed some attention and I love gold leaf, it’s so much softer than silver. Rich and warm, opulent at times. Clearly, this piece with it’s image would look ridiculous with bright shiny gold. Rather than doing the obvious, I tarnished the gold.

It represents that there is always value hidden underneath the ravages of time and age; all it needs to reveal itself is the correct treatment. We all glisten and gleam under the right conditions.

I’m so so satisfied with this dresser. I look at it and find it incredibly soothing.

I finished it the evening before Juneteenth – that part wasn’t planned, it just happened to be serendipitous. And rather than feel anxious or unsure about what is happening, I’m beginning to feel hopeful. I’m beginning to see the yellow, the glow surrounding the young grandson – always hoping for a brighter future.

If you have a few moments, this is the Facebook Live I did yesterday, explaining the process.

So what else do I take from this? That I need to continue to be open to learning. That I need to continue to expand my view, I feel that I’m only touching the tip of the iceberg when it comes to artists that I’m not aware of – yet. As an artist, it’s an exciting time for me – as a human being it’s a time of opportunity. And for that I’m thankful.

{insert catchy ending phrase here}

Diane aka The Paint Factory

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8 thoughts on “Out of the Dark, Comes the Light

    • June 21, 2020 at 8:11 am

      Thank you, Lydia. I think that’s what we’re all craving at this point, some reassurance that the future is going to be more hopeful x

      • June 23, 2020 at 9:55 pm

        I’m blown away about this entire post. Your desire to learn more about history and pairing it with this beautiful piece is absolutely perfect.

        • June 24, 2020 at 2:46 pm

          Thank you, Jamala. I think it’s healthy to ‘check’ ourselves from time to time. I’ve had some deep conversations with a girlfriend (whom I adore) who spoke about her own experiences. While her words often made me want to cry, they made me realize that I can/should do better – we all can. I look at that painting, and I see more and more people ‘checking’ themselves, and becoming more vocal – and that makes me feel hopeful for the future x

  • June 21, 2020 at 2:53 am

    Beautiful work & so apt for our times

  • June 21, 2020 at 4:03 am

    Oh my goodness!!! This is an amazing transformation and it is just beautiful! Your story also fascinated me as I have an English background and have visited the UK multiple times. It felt like β€˜home’ to me. Your background is very interesting.

    • June 21, 2020 at 8:14 am

      I feel at home in the US, but in saying that, when I visit England it seems as though I never left!!


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