Olsen & The Abstract
Weeks of coming home inspired, but perspiring. Heavy days dragged me into the house and fastened me to my bed. Every night canvases and my paintbrushes called to me from the periphery.
Putting pencil to paper feels uncomfortable and unnatural. My sketches are too dark and my proportions are off. I rip up the page and start again. The second one’s worse. I restart over and over and over, eventually throwing my sketch book across the room and deciding it wasn’t meant to be.
Have you ever tried so hard at something that you get nauseous?
My eyes narrow and I want to vomit.
Tonight, creative and I are the same poles of a magnet, resisting each other. I want to grab my giant canvas, shake it, and yell
“WORK WITH ME HERE.”
Are you concerned for my mental health yet? That makes two of us. I’ve spent the past four days alone in my apartment and the walls are closing in. All I want to do is paint and yet the brushes are spinning, swinging their bristles, taunting me.
I put the brushes away.
I put on the Hamilton Mix Tape.
I don my t-shirt that reads ‘Creativity’ across the chest because I’m that desperate.
And then I spread out an old sheet onto my floor.
And I squat down and spread the paint onto the canvas with my hands.
IT FEELS GOOD. The paint slips along my skin like massage oil and eventually cakes into a new layer on my hands. I’m messy and frantic. At first I get anxious, like, “why isn’t this an actual picture?” And the fact that the canvas is not actually looking like anything makes me want to start over. But I take six deep breaths, override my instincts, and let it go.
It will never go in someone’s living room, and that is okay.
It’s ugly and messy and it doesn’t make sense. The colors flash. I grab blacks and deep blues and reds without thinking but it’s no accident that I’m drawn to them: they are lonely colors, and I am lonely. And that is okay. I feel like I’m sculpting. I shower the canvas with glitter and smooth it around the edges. An hour goes by and I feel myself finally start to relax.
I send a picture to my brother and caption it, “I’m in a rut.” He responds that the painting is an accurate representation of the current government. I snicker, thinking first of its sheer ugliness. He’s not wrong: right and left ripping themselves apart, separated by a dark expanse spreading to the most extreme edges of the spectrum.
How powerful is it that the art I purposefully decided I wasn’t going to care about and was at first merely an anti-anxiety exercise registers something meaningful into the brain of another? .
After that night I felt better about the direction in which I was headed, but not completely satisfied. On Sunday, I called up my friend Olsen and begged her help me go bigger. “Let’s art.”
Before I could start on a new canvas, I had to acknowledge some things I’ve learned about myself...
1. I’m afraid of failure.
2. I hate being wasteful.
3. When I think too hard,
I may as well not be thinking at all.
So though I knew I wanted to paint something big, I knew that if I invested money into a large canvas - ranging anywhere from 150-400 bucks - I would put this immense pressure on myself to create something perfect and cut off my own creativity.
I needed a new surface, a cheap, organic, pressure-free surface. Dumpster-Diving would do.
By mid-afternoon Olsen and I are scavenging behind Home Depot searching for wood. Something large with flaws; not too heavy, but sturdy. Crates stacked 10 feet high teetered back and forth as we scrambled up them to get a better view. Finally, we found a wooden board tucked underneath two crates and hauled it out. It was perfect: light, durable, and a small chew in the side. Good, but not perfect.
Olsen laughs as I walk down the street with it, dodging light poles and people. I only get a few blocks. We have to figure out a better way to get it home. We pause on the sidewalk to discuss.
“How you plan on getting that home?”
We turn our heads to see a police officer, leaning his head out the window of his cruiser. My natural response is nervous laughter.
“Not really sure yet, I’ll figure it out!”
The officer, who turns out to be named Mario, teases me a bit more about my obvious inability to get the giant board home on my bike. And then, he offers to take it home for me.
“I’ll give you a five-minute head start and meet you there,” he says as he loads the board into the squad car.
I swing my leg over my bike and give the heavens an incredulous but appreciative glance. The art gods are granting me some good karma and I gratefully accept it.
The perfect storm of a perfectly free surface delivered by a perfectly kind CPD officer accompanied and assisted by my perfectly patient and outrageously supportive friend leaves me no choice but to roll up my sleeves and go crazy.
I rub paint on my hands and slap it on the board. I pour it out of the bottle and straight onto the surface, letting it drip as it pleases. My usual meticulous mixing is tossed out the window as I experiment with new textures. I use my brush maybe once and the rest is all skin, melding colors together.
I feel numb. The colors playing across the surface allow my mind to wander anywhere it wants. I’m underwater, above sky, among lightening and thunder and rain. My eyes squeeze shut and then reopen. Splashes of blues and purples dance in front of me. Dark pink splatters my hands and feet, and also my hair..... I’m relaxed.
Olsen asks me what I’m thinking about. It snaps me out of the meditative world
I have traveled to.
“Frustration and peace.”
looking at my mess from all angles
Milky Way hands