Week 5: Life Soup is Sour, Bitter, Salty, and Sweet

One of my very favorite teachers, Stanley Lewis, once said something that I have been mulling over for almost twenty years: Sometimes The Ego will try to block you from being the artist that you truly are. Maybe the work that is itching to be expressed is not the work you hoped or imagined you would make. You need to find the courage to be yourself.

Or do we invent ourselves as we go along, simply making choices with our minds and our will? More often I feel like the choices are already made for me. (Where?? Beneath the ego as Stanley said, somewhere deep in my brain or in my spirit?) And then it becomes my imperative task to manifest those choices, however embarrassing, however at odds with my ego. Is it even necessary to like my own work? When I am in the flow of creating, I may love my work or struggle with it, but there is always a kind of urgency that feels good when I get it down. When the work is resolved, I may or may not love it, but there is satisfaction, like solving a riddle.  It seems more important to just get it made, then other people can decide if they like it or not. This is a new way of being with my work: learning to balance the intellect with a different kind of understanding that involves an inner listening, intuition, and self-acceptance.

Another influential teacher, Charlie Hewitt, told me to allow yourself to be corny, to do what is natural and even funny.  During one of his lectures about his own work, I was scribbling down notes in my sketchbook and drew an emphatic arrow next to this sentence: “Have faith in your own feelings and rhythms. They will take you to who you are.”  He told me that the goal of art-making was not necessarily to make every work successful, but to be capable of seeing the world better.  If I am going to make 52 new works this year, they may not all be successful, but they can most certainly help me to better see my world.

I was expecting an artwork about making soup to be lighthearted and breezy, but as all these difficult questions started bubbling up, it quickly became a rather thick stew.  Bean Soup is easy and fun. Life Soup is more complicated.  Ingredients: work, play, art, food, family, iPhones, drawing, Lego pieces, painting, books, relationships, writing, computers, music, sounds, sports, pets, neighborhoods, schools, politics, loving kindness and self-criticism, and on and on.  Many of these flavors don’t meld together well and the textures are weird.  But, it is also strangely delicious to me.

This week’s collage started with filling up the red pot with all the ingredients of Life Soup, drawn on torn bits of paper and glued onto the panel with heavy acrylic medium. Then I poured Golden Self Leveling Gel over the surface in a thick layer, floating some loose paint on the top while it was still wet.  The gel is opaque when wet, but dries to a clear glassy finish. The collage elements are then embedded underneath the gel layer, visually pushed into a deeper space.

Life Soup with wet Self-Leveling Gel

I’m not sure why this piece turned into such a quagmire.  Maybe the initial thrill of starting this year-long project finally gave way to the inevitable realization that sometimes it might be really hard.  I was very busy this week, pulled in different directions, and feeling overwhelmed.  When I first conceived of the image of the soup pot, I thought it would be a quick and enjoyable piece. I wanted an easy one this week.

Life Soup with dry Self-Leveling Gel

Instead, I spent hours and hours in the studio, arranging and re-arranging, adding paint and wiping out, and so many insecurities floated up from the brew. I am thankful for Stanley and Charlie, and grateful that I took all those copious notes in my old sketchbooks so I would have those words to turn to when I needed them again.  I am finding the courage to be myself, to have faith in my own feelings and rhythms. The final work:

Life Soup