I used to be a painter.
At least this is how the thought sometimes rings in my head. In the same way I used to make wedding gowns, or used to live one place or another, used to have hair that was a lot less ... curly (?), used to not have to wear glasses to read street signs or recognize faces across the room, or how I used to have childhood walls plastered with unicorns.
Last year, the City of Wasilla, Alaska commissioned me to create a piece of artwork for installation in the children's section of their new library, slated for completion this June.
That initial conversation went something like this:
Me: "What sort of work do you have in mind? I work a lot with textiles."
Them: "No. No textiles."
Which is understandable. The perception of textiles in the realm of public art could easily go to a sooty, difficult-to-care-for place, populated with dust bunnies and light damage. And while a vacuum cleaner with a wand attachment will do a lot to vanquish at least some of those foes, when I saw the architectural drawings for the space and the wall they envisioned for the installation, it was clear this artwork would inevitably be touched -- loved on, even -- by small hands.
Them: "Our librarians are familiar with your children's books. We would like a painting."
Me: " ... "
Them: "... something 'filled with joy."'
I took this to mean they wanted a page from a story. I wanted this, too, as well as an image that reflected the library's wooded surroundings, the magic of childhood, my reverence for imagination and a deep love of reading and children's books.
I submitted a concept sketch, expecting some dialogue -- that back-and-forth dance I used to have with art directors -- but they accepted the proposed design and dimensions right away.
In February, I commissioned the construction of a biscuit-joined maple frame and a 40" x 40", 1/2"- thick MDF panel. The panel pops out of the frame so I can work on it, and is designed with pre-mounted French cleats, so none of this has to get fussed with after the the work is complete. The finished painting screws into the frame from the reverse through pre-drilled, counter-sunk holes -- super clean, super strong -- leaving a 1/4" reveal between the painting and frame. This is what happens when an architect husband and a trusted cabinet maker/finishing carpenter put their heads together to come up with a beautiful structural design and solve all those problems in advance. I have a huge issue with otherwise gorgeous artwork in a slapped-together frame, and in this case, the frame is the cradle for the finished product. It won't fall off the wall, and the edges of the work are protected from book cart bumps and dings.
I've found a lot of joy painting this piece. It still needs around 8-10 hours of shadow and highlight work plus several clear coats before framing (the color on-screen is a bit wacky because this shot was taken with my phone), but I've even had the luxury of taking a week off from it to pursue another project and allow it some breathing room. My husband confided he'll miss this one when it's gone. I've been staring at it on my studio wall, getting a little lost in its stories.
Part of that story is that I'm still a painter, and despite the darker subject matter I explore in other work, I can still conjure a bit of whimsy and have been so grateful for the opportunity to do so.
I'll post installation images when it's all finished.
To see this work installed:
More public art:
Artist in Anchorage, Alaska, sometimes blogging about the collision of history, family & art, with the understanding that none exists without the other.