Posted by: Kate
I'm sure you've all seen quite enough of this painting, but guess what? You're going to see a whole lot more of it! I was notified that I have been selected as a finalist in the Portrait Society of America's International Portrait Competition!
So far it looks like my buds Mia Bergeron and Terry Strickland are in with a Certificate of Excellence. Meanwhile Marina Dieul, fellow Canadian is also a finalist. Represent! I'm also pumped to see that Gregory Mortenson, Stanka Kordic, Alicia Ponzio, and Lynn Sanguedolce have been recognized. I'm still waiting to see who else is in. I briefly entertained the idea of posting everyone's paintings up here, but let's face it: Matt Innis does a much better job at that and fifty percent of our traffic comes from his site anyways. But let me say that I will be very, very humble showing my work with the other finalists, and I might bring a curtain or something to drape over my piece. Or a large indoor palm tree that I can put in front of it.
While you're still here, I never did explain what I was trying to do conceptually with this painting.
When I first got going in my art career I asked my cousin to let me paint her two girls as a prototypical portraiture piece. I wanted to take portraiture commissions and I needed to have an example to show potential customers. I completed the painting and started putting it out in the art world. What I wasn't prepared for was the feedback. It varied, from strangers crying in my booth at the Toronto Art Expo, to people gushing over how well I captured the girls' innocence (that's between you and your therapist, I guess), and one person in particular completely gutting the painting in front of an auditorium full of people and declaring the painting was emotionally cold, I didn't have enough life experience yet to know how to paint, and my choice of artificial light was ill-judged (I used natural light). It was really bewildering, and the feedback was so varied I couldn't take anything useful from it.
As soon as I finished the painting, I wanted to do another of the two girls. Unfortunately, they lived in BC and I lived in Ontario. And besides, I was starting to become known locally as a painter of cute little girls and it totally wigged me out. The thing is, I don't like painting kids because I'm drawn to cuteness or "innocence." I like painting kids because when I look at them I see a glimmer of the adult in them, and I think that's pretty cool. Kids are capable of sophisticated thoughts and feelings. They aren't simply sweet. Kids can be nasty, and cruel, and they can be absolutely allergic to hypocrisy and have an inborn moral rectitude that rivals that of grown ups--all at the same time. Like adults, they can have a multitude of mutually exclusive qualities. They can be clever, and whether or not they're more clever than average, they are learning about the world at a frantic pace and it's fascinating to watch.
Now living in BC, I felt like I was ready, maybe, to go back to the drawing board and figure out how to reclaim this theme, if I could call it that, and put it out of the reach of interpretation. I had spent many years thinking always in the back of my mind how I could paint kids differently so that people didn't go "Awwwww," when they saw the painting. I don't want people to be reminded of their own kids or grandkids when they look at my paintings. I want people to be reminded of themselves back when they were germinal beings in the process of being shaped and polished by the world.
Finally something clicked with me. Narrative is great and all, but mood is more important. Narrative entertains, but mood engages. Mood is also irrefutable. You can read into a narrative with your own emotional interpretation, but mood tells the viewer how to feel. The mood of music--melancholy, epic, happy, romantic--is unmistakable, although the lyrics can be interpreted differently depending on who's listening.
"Thistles and Thorns" is a mood painting. I have had feedback from about fifty people now and not a single one has said anything about cuteness or innocence. The feedback I have been getting through facebook and the blog has meant the world to me. Thank you everyone.
The title is now "Glad the Birds Are Gone Away," taken from a line of a Robert Frost poem that I felt had the exact mood of the painting. It's also a tribute to the birds that never made it into the painting. Although I finally decided they wouldn't fit, I originally planned to have some birds in the grasses.