The Story Behind the Art: Alone on the Streets
Hi guys. Welcome to my first blog in my "Behind the Art" series. A real quick introduction: In this series I'll be explaining not so much the techniques used to create the piece, but the thought/ emotional process behind it. Hopefully it gives you a better idea of what I was trying to capture and more appreciation for the meaning.
Alone on the Streets is one of my more recent paintings completed (Nov. 2017). At first glance it might just look like an explosion of colors, and lines but there is actually more to it than that.
A lot of my abstract paintings start with an idea and change as I paint. Usually there is some kind of story that develops layer by layer in my head. Sometimes the layers are not all visible when the painting is complete.
This painting started after I read a post on Facebook about someone who had a family member suffering from schizophrenia. The family member chose to live on the streets because the paranoia from the disorder made it hard for her to trust anyone-- even her family. The post was asking for help reaching this person.
After responding to the post I was filled with sadness. I also have schizophrenia and there was a time in my life when I was ready to walk away from everything and live on the streets. For me it wasn't paranoia that motivated me-- I didn't think anyone was out to kill me. I was pretty suicidal then so I think that believing that would have actually kept me at home. For me, it was a sense of despair and guilt. I felt like I was incapable of contributing to society. I couldn't hold a job. I could barely talk. I didn't know what was real. I felt like I was a mistake and I felt horrible that my family had to deal with me because I couldn't take care of myself. I thought that it would be better to live and die on the streets anonymously, than to burden them with shame or financial costs.
I was lucky that I met someone who turned my life around then. But not everyone is so lucky.
This painting started with a black background, mirror spray paint with foot and hand prints embedded in it and white rectangular outlines of "the city" that you see in the background.
Once the outline was done in white I began to go over the buildings in colors. I actually began with warm colors because I was sad and angry and the colors denoted fire and blood. I outlined the now invisible hand print with red and imagined it as a cry for help from inside a burning building.
After that I started filling in the accent colors and transitioning the buildings from warm to cool colors. This was because I remembered what it felt like to walk alone on the streets when I was not in a good place. I remembered feeling cold and alone. The coolness was both physical and emotional. The buildings all fell into the background like I was separated from them. Even when I walked by I was in a different world and I couldn't cross the barrier.
I didn't fill these buildings in with as much color as I did the red ones. I wanted them to be empty because that is how it felt to me. After I finished the buildings and the street I got stuck. So I waited a while.
When I did get back to painting I had this feeling of passion and anger again, but also an idea that there should be hope. This is when the neon colors were added, along with the dots and splatter that you see mostly on the right side of the canvas.
To be perfectly honest I had no idea what I was doing at this point. I had a thought in my head that said "trust your instincts" and another that said "what the f*** did you do? You are ruining it and wasting paint."
I tried to listen to the less abrasive voice: "Calm down, you are fine. Build something with it. It looks like bushes, add plants, add hope."
I started to layer paints to add texture. I was scared of messing up but the voice kept saying: "courage. Remember you need courage to create.. The courage to make mistakes. The courage to believe in yourself and fix them. Be brave." So I kept going.
It's hard to tell but that dark brown lump of paint on the far right was initially made in the shape of a tree with its roots winding down to the bottom of the canvas. If you look closely at the bottom right of the painting you can also see the root and branch like patterns.
Around this time I also added the moons. I couldn't tell you why I just felt very strongly that they needed to be there. My heart ached for them. In the past I would stand outside at night and stare at the moon and have such a strong urge to fly away. I think that might have been why I needed to add them. That sense of longing-- trying to get somewhere without knowing where or why.
I don't know why there had to be two moons. I resisted at first but when the first moon on the left was done I felt like I needed to add the smaller one on the right.
So that became the basis of my setting, but it was still just a setting. Maybe it had some emotion (for me at least) but there was no story; nothing to connect it to anyone else. The small stick figure was added as the "hero" of the story. The small anonymous, insignificant creature walking through a set that didn't seem real. But where was he/she going? Why?
So I added the other figure. I still don't know if it is a benevolent being or not. At first it was an angry creature but then I thought, why? Why does it have to be so dark? Maybe it is something coming to help.
I'm still not sure, but I figure that I can leave that up to the viewer to interpret.
That pretty much covers the idea/ story behind this painting. However, before I end this I would like to point out a couple other elements that are easy to overlook.
What look like random clumps of paint on the edge of the moon are also the outline of a white bird ascending into the sky.
It's hard to tell with the reflection of the light on the canvas, but there is a winged figure in the negative space of the background, with a white/pink outline under the more prominent features.
The bird and winged (angel? demon? spirit?) are hoovering above the scene, watching the choices the anonymous, lost person makes and the influence the invisible, large figure has on them. Are they good? Bad? Both? Neither? I don't actually know. That is something you can decide.
Thank you for reading. I hope that this was helpful.