Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The Strange Case..., continued

A week after painting my self-portrait, the regular teacher was back, and as usual we started the class by putting up our work for a brief critique. The teacher was quite complimentary of my portrait, but she did point out one area of skewed perspective--that being my mouth. She said it was likely that I had changed my head position slightly while painting the mouth in order to see it better, so that the spaces from my nose to mouth and mouth to chin were a bit larger than they should be. I had to agree, although it also didn't bother me at all. I wasn't really setting out to do a "realistic" portrait, more to enjoy the process of painting the portrait. I had enjoyed the process and also rather enjoyed the result.

My teacher suggested that I might want to scrape the mouth (and surrounding face parts) off and redo it, to get the proportions and the perspective right. I didn't really think much of that idea, but for some odd reason, when I got home I decided to try it. (This is really not like me; I don't usually go back to paintings to redo things. Maybe it's from all those years of sermons--it's just so hard and so unsatisfying to revisit them once they've been preached. What's on the page seems kind of...well, flat and lifeless. I guess I feel similarly about paintings; the experience of the painting process is a big part of it for me. And at the time, most of what I had painted were landscapes, and it's very hard to go back to changing natural circumstances. Interesting...I hadn't really thought of this analogy until just now.)

So...anyway, on this occasion I decided to try redoing my mouth, so that meant taking a palette knife and scraping my mouth (oops! Freudian typo? my fingers typed "my mothe..."--where'd that come from?), that is scraping my mouth off the canvas. This in itself I found quite disturbing, more than I might have imagined, as if I were seriously marring and silencing myself. After the mouthectomy was complete (well, a slight trace remained--I couldn't make myself scrape any harder), I had run out of time for that day and put the painting aside. 

It sat there mouthless for two days before I had time to get back to it, and each time I walked by it, I felt another visceral stab, punch, assault. It was horrible! I wanted my mouth back! I did not like being mouthless or voiceless, not one bit! When I finally repainted the mouth, I couldn't find the small brush I had used the first time, so the "new mouth" is a bit hasty. In fact, I don't think I managed to change the proportions at all, and that's just fine. At least I have my mouth back.

PS. I have to admit that the whole class, what with my inner wrestlings with the teacher's approach, was one huge opportunity for me to exercise my voice, so this incident is all the more fitting.

No comments: