It was October of 2019. I was living in a small bedroom out of which I also worked. I started to dream of travel and of entering a different life, a different world. I thought of Europe and how I’d only been there a couple of times but not for long enough. Perhaps I’d like to move there. I’d been living in Chicago for 15 years and was feeling that the inspiration I’ve received from the city might be starting to wind down. I was ready for new landscapes. It was time to begin a new painting, and I searched for inspiration. I found an image of a woman from a book of lifestyle illustrations from the 60s. The wistful expression of her face and the way she held her hand enticed me. It was right. I knew I needed to paint this woman. But where was she? Where did she exist? I searched through other reference images that surrounded me--books and books and eventually Architectural Digest magazine. And that’s where I found a beautiful photograph of the inside of an Italian villa. THIS was the place she wanted to be (let’s face it—that I wanted to be). It also felt deeply symbolic, with the two spaces it depicted holding meaning to me as references to my own past as well as my future. (…story continues below images…)
… I used a small hand-held projection device which I'd found at a thrift store, resting it on top of each image in the book and magazine, to throw the shapes across the room and onto my canvas. I used charcoal pencil to trace the general position of the shapes, to find my composition. Then I began to paint, roughing in the initial shapes and color. I referenced the image of the woman, but soon realized that the image wasn’t detailed enough. It was a starting place, and that was all. I had a small mirror in my room and looked into it to see my eyes and the shapes of my face. I hadn’t intended for this painting to be a self-portrait and in the end I don’t think it entirely is, but I did need to see some solid face shapes to get the effect I wanted. I spent a few hours painting my own eyes and face, eventually holding the canvas in front of a mirror to see if it made sense or needed correcting. That led to correcting, of course! I eventually came to a point that I like the face and it was settled in my mind. I wouldn’t touch it further. I moved to the scene she inhabited and worked on and off on that space, small as it was, for weeks, pushing and pulling the trees on the wall behind her to come into the right type of feeling. At times I’d see something I’d painted the day before and it had lost its luster—the paint seemed to have dulled overnight. I went at it again to bring further clarity.
My life took some twists and turns and I eventually found a new place to live which provided the light I needed (via a huge bank of east-facing windows) and more room in which to paint. This time period saw the painting sitting on an easel, the woman staring at me like some Dorian Gray, wondering when I would give her the growth around her that she needed—the completion of the wall with its foliage and trees and even eventually its fruit. I moved in March of 2020, and after some initial whirlwind efforts at decorating and setting up my new space as a proper art studio and living environment (no small task), I revisited the woman and I gave her the finishing touches she needed. This was April, and I began taking neighborhood walks outside. I heard the birds and saw the buds opening. It was the sound and look of Spring, and she was returning. And so I named my painting “The Return of Brigit,” giving the woman a name and identity. She watches over me in my studio and reminds me that I needed a larger space and more time to really make my art a priority, and that I found it (oddly, because of the pandemic). And that we can always dream of a more beautiful life if we need to. Some call that escapism. I'm calling it The Return of Brigit.
(To see the details in this painting, go to this page and hover over the image. "The Return of Brigit" is available as an archival paper print and a gallery-wrapped canvas, also on that page, and the original is listed for sale here--message me for more information).
In the Studio
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