Sunday, August 14, 2011

My mouth waters when I paint

Abstract art can be difficult to interpret and people often ask me: What comes first - the thought or the painting? Or do they evolve together? How do you know what you are painting?
This is difficult to answer and any response is more an exploration than a definitive answer. For me, often the thought, or the general theme, comes first. Usually this thought is elusive and difficult to pin down. so I will write copiously trying to capture it. Sometimes, when all the elements are out in the open, I will then try to clarify what I want to capture by writing it in haiku form. This strips away all the fluff and leaves me with a very clear direction to follow.  However, I don’t always use that tool. At other times I start with the elusive thoughts still wandering freeform.

White Hot Angry Tears. 250mm x 250mm. Deborah Milligan

The painting above was done a few years ago and was inspired by an aerial view of a desert detention centre that I saw in a newspaper. It struck me with it's stark sense of isolation - a ring road worn in the desert around a fenced prison.  My feelings about the way we treat asylum seekers here in Australia were running hot and I found it hard to focus on what I wanted to say in my painting. I used haiku to really strip away all the excess thoughts and refine my vision. I don't have any literary aspirations, but I do find this an incredibly useful tool. This is one of the few paintings where I have included the haiku in the final work. It summed up my feelings so well, and resonates with the image.

white hot angry tears
so wrong, this desert prison
our land cries with you

When I paint I am often guided by the sensations within my body. When I feel it in my heart, in my stomach, in my hands - even in my mouth - then I know that the painting is working for me. It is a deeply visceral, even primitive feeling. It is only later that I step back and analyse it, refine it, work ‘by the rules’. Initially though, I gather the awareness of what I wish to convey within my body, observe my physical, emotional and intellectual reaction, and then endeavour to give it expression through paint.

Regardless of the way in which I start, the painting itself often tells me more about my initial intentions as it evolves. Sometimes it is only when I have finished that I fully understand what my intentions were. I enjoy allowing the painting to guide me.

I remember once playing about with fridge poetry and making what I thought was an inconsequential five line poem. The next morning when I got up and saw it up there for all to see on the fridge I nearly died! “Crikey! I didn’t want to tell anyone about that!” Completely without my knowing, my subconscious had dredged up an old wound that needed airing and healing.

Art can be incredibly powerful – never underestimate it!

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