As I play today with the concept of witnessing, I am struck by how many varied meanings the word has. My series of bird paintings uses them as witnesses, sometimes reluctant or sarcastic, in varied settings. Here are a few:
One of my earliest memories is of a board book illustrating opposites. Big puppy. Small puppy. My brother was two years older than me and liked trying to teach me the secrets of the stiff pages. Up. Down. I depended on him a lot in those days; our household was always in a state of turmoil. Happy. Sad. And Mamma was usually glad to let him take charge of me. She always thought of me as being an overly sensitive child. Good. Bad. And she was afraid I spent too much time worrying about things that were out of my control.
My mother was a stunning beauty, the kind of woman you would expect to see on the cover of a magazine. I used to dream of being as pretty as she was. But I was also disturbed by the way her beauty came and went with her moods. When she was happy, she dressed the part in every way. She wore beautiful clothes, had the latest, most glamorous hairstyle, and adorned her beaming face with cosmetics. When she was sad, she looked like an impersonator of herself. She shuffled around the house in an orange caftan that floated uncertainly about her body as though reluctant to make contact with her washed out skin. Her wide blue eyes refused to sparkle, and the outer edges of her disappointed lids drooped under the weight of of her sadness. Mamma was sad a lot.
As the years of my childhood passed, I watched her as she tried to mask her sorrow. The photo albums in our den were filled with Easter pictures set on our impossibly green, sloping front lawn, carefully crafted photos of Mamma dressed in a costly pastel suit, with matching hat and gloves and handbag and shoes. She looked as lovely as a cover girl. And in some of the pictures she was really smiling—the kind of smile that is almost always followed by a little laugh. I could tell because her teeth were showing.
Not everyone knew it but Mamma hated her teeth. They were delicate, like a child’s teeth, and though they were perfectly straight, they had tiny spaces in between. She was self-conscious about them and always tried to hide the small gaps as though they were openings that would leave her vulnerable to invasion. I liked it when I saw Mamma’s teeth; it meant that she was really happy, so happy that she didn’t bother to hide behind a shuttered mouth.
But in most of the photos, Mamma didn't really smile. Her eyes were unable to hide, for even the fraction of a second that it took to snap the Polaroid, the determined shadows of her desperation. I guess she was just stretched too thin to protect herself, and as the years went by she stopped trying, until the camera was put away in the hall closet, eventually becoming an obsolete model for which film could no longer be purchased.
I encountered Rauschenberg's plenitude of artistic expression in the early stages of my own attempts to make art. Here is my first painting, titled "Adam's Choice." I am proud to say that it is featured on a bag produced by Bad Ass Backpacks, titled "Sincerity Inside."
I am painting today, so keeping it short blog-wise, I will close with these words from one of my favorite vocalists:
"There's beauty everywhere. There are amazing things happening everywhere, you just have to be able to open your eyes and witness it. Some days, that's harder than others."--Sarah McLachlan