Home, Stamford, CT
The weekend of September 11 arrived, marking the 9th anniversary of the New York City attack. That Saturday afternoon I surprised myself by abruptly gathering my paint supplies and setting up outside our house. I suppose it was my own way of demonstrating that we cannot put off living fully. Life’s daily distractions tend to numb us into mundane routines.
There have been moments when I have allowed myself to become completely distracted by the never-ending responsibilities of being a home owner but my inherent creative instinct, curiosity and need to use my hands always seem to come to the surface. It (painting) is a compulsion which often makes very little practical sense yet there is a nagging urge to address it. With this project I have decided to confront those issues both compositionally and psychologically.
Several weeks earlier, while working in the yard, I caught a glimpse of myself in one of the windows of the house. The single hung, six-over-six sashes are framed with traditional flat milled trim consistent with a late 18th century home. The top of this particular window cap however is missing a piece of transitional molding. The absence of this piece which exposes the bare wood beneath and the surrounding imperfect yellow clapboards act as a physical reminder of the continual ‘to do’ list of repairs and upkeep for our old home. It is a tension point for me and I presume most women who act as primary caretakers of the home. There is an indoctrination of female members of the household to clean, maintain and improve-i.e. ‘nest’. For me this is additionally heightened by the fact that I am particularly sensitive to my surroundings. I am not exactly obsessive, but the urge to utilize my creative and conceptual skills beyond manual labor in the context of our home clash on a regular basis. I suppose this is one of the reasons why I have always chosen to paint on location, off-site. By removing myself from the home environment, I remove the distractions.
The afternoon sun was hot, exposing my left side to the last heat of the Summer. The drought of earlier months brought on an abundance of prematurely ripe acorns. The sound of dropping nuts behind me caused me on more than one occasion to look around to see if someone was sneaking up on me.
The technical and compositional theme of reflection that keeps reappearing in my work takes on a more conceptual meaning when the reflected subject is myself. I believe with all portraits the task is half technical and half spiritual. You have to be objective enough to allow your understanding of anatomy and drawing skills to construct the figure in front of you, yet you also have to be emotionally open to ‘catching’ the spirit of the individual. This, I feel, is more difficult the more intimately you know the subject. It goes without saying the psychological land mines you can encounter when attempting a self portrait.
The simplicity of the composition prompted me to examine more closely the quality and texture of the paint to enhance the effect of the piece. Over subsequent days I pushed myself to build up the paint texture on the architectural elements, i.e. the clapboards, window trim and the stone footing. My intent was to enhance and differentiate the two different spatial planes – the window itself and the surrounding woodwork.
The particular angle of the afternoon sunlight did not create the circumstances where the transparency was equally dominant as the reflection. My reflection was disrupted by transparency only in a small quadrant of the image. Storm windows were installed on the exterior side of the old sashes. During the summer months we raise the bottom storm window (and lower the screen) to allow circulation throughout the house. The upper storms gave one small indication of transparency but also the subtle illusion of a double image due to the overlapping of the two panes of glass.
I am left with the simplicity of my own image surrounded by the architectural elements. My easel, just out of frame, me looking, returning the persistent stare, a left fistful of brushes, my unseen right hand busy at work… ‘Housework’.