I create and teach art – painting, drawing, sculpture.
Creating art satisfies my need to be connected to my world. Teaching art satisfies my need to be connected to other human beings in a way that is meaningful. Creating art is incomplete for me unless I find a way to connect with others, especially youth, and teach them how to express themselves fully through their own artwork. Teaching in a public high school provides a myriad of opportunities for me to work with a unique population of children. I find that students in crisis – students with abusive home lives, with eating disorders and emotional issues – often turn to me as a life-mentor as well as to teach them how to express their thoughts and emotions in a visual form.
The frailty and tenacity of adolescents constantly amazes me. On one hand they are still children needing protection and on the other hand they are young adults struggling to be independent. Brave and vulnerable. Bold and uncertain; adolescents are walking dichotomies. All emotions are big and new. They are searching for and creating theories of life that will inform their relationships for the rest of their lives. They are invincible, eminently fragile and all is possibility.
The continual theme of the oppressed, confined life reflects the concerns of my students as well as reflects issues in my life and the lives of my friends and family. We all seem to struggle with two persistent questions, “How does that which confines/oppresses also provide protection and security?” and “To what extent to we create and add to our own sense of confinement?”
These paradoxes exist for all human beings and are in high relief for adolescents. Working with and supporting these adolescents every day, I find issues in my own life parallel their issues. As much as I’d like to think that I am simply a mentor guiding my students, I am truly walking this path with them. These parallels play out in my sculptures as I try to depict the theme of the oppressed life – as well as the duality of how those confinements can also provide protection and safety.
Three series have evolved from these explorations. In the Stepmother series I used animal imagery to create creatures to represent safety and comfort; as well as using the physical body language of my figures to convey very basic emotions – fear, anxiety, comfort, and indecision.
In the Defiance/Caged series, I find myself delving more into the role of habitat – using actual cage imagery – and focusing on the comfort level of the figures in the cages. Leaving the doors off the cages and giving the figures the opportunity to leave/stay as well as creating more lush and comfortable cages for the figures. Scale is important in my work; experimenting with increasing and decreasing the size of the figure relative to the cage, I am interested in exploring the concept of creating a “cage” inside of a figure. Today, as I paint as much as I sculpt, I grapple with how to express this imagery in both three and two dimensions.
In the third and most recent series, Time to Eat, I dig deeper into personal symbolism. Struggling with an eating disorder for most of my teen and adult life, I have long avoided taking this on as a topic in my artwork. The imagery of a corset is one that reflects the rigid roles that women have defined for them in today’s society; both in terms of social acceptance and physical “beauty.” Building on the concept of confinement and cages of our own making; the corsets are lovely and compelling on the outside and compressed, uncomfortable, sharp and dangerous on the inside.
I find myself continually going back to the paradox that lives in us all: In what way do we create the shackles that bind us and hold us back? Why do we not escape if we hold the key? It is through my work with children in crisis that I find clarity in my own life. As I help them see the boundaries in their worlds and help them find ways to work their way out, I find I can begin to see the outlines of the fear-based cages I have built for myself. It is through creating sculpture that I notice that I, too, can find my way forward as an artist, a teacher and a fragile, determined human being.