For a long time I’ve had this image in my head, of a city–Mass Ave in North Cambridge, to be exact–where all the buildings were made up of words in different languages: Somali, Bengali, Haitian, Spanish, Portuguese, Amharic, Chinese. And I wanted to create that image. To somehow, imperfectly and clumsily, show my love for the diverse and messy and exciting community where I used to work in North Cambridge. And more generally to show my support for immigrant communities in cities everywhere who work so hard to literally and figuratively build cities and communities. I had this sense of longing, a need to make it happen. But I left it alone because I just couldn’t figure out how to make something that felt right, that felt like it had any integrity, that wasn’t forcing something to happen.
I started collaging, with paper and acrylic paint, and I could feel myself getting closer to satisfying the quiet buzzing in the back of my head. Finally, one day, I went out and collected newspapers from immigrant grocery stores all around Somerville and Cambridge. I didn’t get all the languages I wanted, but I found Bengali, Portuguese, Korean, and Japanese. And I went to the public library to get Chinese and Spanish. And I started to collage with them and it feels so right and so exciting.
My first attempt felt hard and messy and all awkward and rough edges and painful and I kind of hated it but also…it came out better than I had imagined or planned it!
My next one was a long time in coming since some life stuff happened (new baby!) but I love it too, in such a different way:
Now I have two more newspaper collage works in progress and I can’t wait to see where this goes!
This month, August 2018, my paintings are on display at the YWCA Cambridge, where I’m Artist of the Month. I’m calling this collection “We Built This City”. I had an opening reception for the show on Sunday, August 5th, and it was so much fun!
Brown House, 2017. Oil on canvas. 24 by 36 inches. SOLD. Prints available.
Hydrant 2.0, 2017. Oil on canvas. 16 by 20 inches. SOLD.
I finally finished my two main commission pieces for this fall, the painting of the Brown House for the UEP Department at Tufts and a portrait of a fire hydrant for a friend. Feels good to finally be done with two projects that I worked on (and, let’s be honest, obsessed over) for so long. Prints of the Brown House painting will be up on my Etsy page very shortly.
I’m actually especially proud of the fire hydrant–this was my second attempt at painting the same fire hydrant. I completed the first whole painting and finally admitted to myself that I hated it and started over from scratch with a completely different style and approach and now I really love it, and the process of creating felt really good. So glad I didn’t settle for the first one!
I forgot how much I love painting outdoors! For most of the year, I paint indoors and work from photographs for my landscape paintings. And I always enjoy that just fine. But during the summer, when I have time and the weather cooperates, I work on paintings from life, outside, on site. I’ve only been able to do a couple like that this year, but it’s always a great experience.
Last month I did a small palette knife landscape of the beach at Arlington Reservoir, which is a popular summer destination for kids and families. I had so much fun talking with the kids who came up to me to ask me about my painting, comment on the colors I was using, and tell me how they thought I could do it better. Then while I was in the process of packing up, some sand got kicked onto the still wet paint, which actually ended up adding a really cool texture and color and the perfect amount of messiness to the finished piece.
Currently, I am working on a commissioned piece on campus at Tufts University. One of the days I was onsite working recently was freshmen move-in day, which was a lot of fun–so many enthusiastic new students and their parents to talk to! This is a larger piece which will take several sessions to complete, so it feels like a chance to be an ongoing part of the community.
What I love about painting on site in a public place is that it’s a unique opportunity to interact with strangers in a very positive and warm way. I’m sure there are people who don’t like my paintings, but usually the people who stop to talk to me are the ones who do like them. So it’s always encouraging to have positive feedback from strangers. But it also makes a connection–the fact that I’m painting bridges the gap of silence that is usually present between strangers (at least in Boston). People ask me for directions, talk about what they like about the place where I’m painting, or talk about their own artistic experiences. For me, all those conversations and interactions get embedded in the painting itself in some way. The finished result feels like a collaborative work, rather than something I created out of my head, in isolation. When I look at the painting, I see something layered with experiences that much more fully sum up the sense of place in the landscape than a mere two-dimensional image. I also imagine and hope that for the passersby I get to talk to, seeing me painting in a location helps to deepen their experience and appreciation of it as well.
For me, on site landscape paintings of urban spaces are special because they both celebrate specific settings and communities, while also helping to create a sense of place and community.