The Unspeakable series began with my connection to Guernica, Picasso’s response to the Nazi bombing of a small town in the Basque region of Spain. I feel compelled to return to this painting again and again, as it conveys extreme emotions for which words are insufficient.
I embroider images of figures translated directly from Guernica, combining them with clumps of lines. These networks of lines come from observations of my aging mother’s hair, which falls out when I wash it. The hair is residue of rare moments of tenderness between us. Much like the hair washing, the small stitches require careful attention and a slow pace. The activity is simple but full. A lot is left unspoken.
As Unspeakable evolved, I incorporated imagery from other art historical representations of distraught women, including the preparatory sketches for Guernica. These women are raw emotion. Some are grotesque, nearly vulgar, with the distortions despair causes, while others are tender and vulnerable. Stains of saturated acrylic paint hover over the figures like daunting clouds. The stains hold history and reveal unruly, wordless memories.
My series Riffing Pools emerged out of a desire to explore the mark making capabilities of embroidery thread, playing with its potential to be more spontaneous than it usually appears in images. Embroidery lends itself to meticulous and slow stitching, and pre-determined patterns. One of the questions I am posing with this work is what happens when stitching becomes more raw, improvisational and expressive on its own, without adhering to a pattern or recognizable imagery? I try not to “fix” what would usually be thought of mistakes in the stitching – tangles and loose ends, oversized, awkward stitches- but instead respond to them as an abstract expressionist might respond to the initial paint strokes on the canvas. The paint stains, drips, ruptured and tattered canvas, also contribute to this raw aesthetic. Ultimately, the finished piece is the result of my dialogue with these materials.
In Brain Stains I use a similar technique of acrylic staining and embroidery thread to interpret PET scans of brains experiencing different mental illnesses, as well as create diagrammatic images of neurons based on drawings by early neuroscientists. PET scans are clinical diagnostic tools, yet they create kaleidoscopic arrays of color and patterns similar to mandalas. These images also refer to universal emotions of shame, pain, and grief cloaked in the language of clinical technology.
In The Party's Over I am exploring the phenomenon of “post-party letdown” of children’s birthday parties and other celebrations. The thick paint application of the oil paintings mimic the pure physicality of cake and frosting, creating highly textured images of the carnage of crumbs and frosting left behind when the party’s over. In contrast, the candy word images are super glossy and smooth acrylic paintings of outdated children’s phrases of disgust and disdain, written in multicolored candies.
Help Yourself is a series of painted and embroidered images of self-help book covers from the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s. I have always been fascinated by the self-help movement. I grew up in the heyday of these wildly popular books with their pervasively commercial messages of ready solutions to complex problems.
In my Hello Masterpiece series, I juxtapose the character, Hello Kitty, with famous images from art history. The paintings are postcard size, similar to those found in a museum gift shop. The famous paintings become pop culture icons akin to Hello Kitty, reinforcing their role as commodities in a market. In this series Hello Kitty is taking a tour through art history and dressing up to “match” elements of the famous painting. In other images from this series, Hello Kitty is pointing toward social or political issues, such as war, genocide, or gender identity. I rely on her to charm the viewer into looking, but her innocent, playful appeal contrasts with the serious adult subject matter.
"Unholy Ghosts" consists of images of a figure underneath a child’s bed sheet. The ghost is a metaphor for the haunting quality of mental illness and memory, as well as a reference to a common childhood costume and experience of hiding. In the "Unholy Ghost Interior View" series, I paint from views inside these sheets to create abstracted visions of the interior experience of childhood.
Spills and Pills
In several other series ("pill spills," "hello pills," "swallow"), I create images of increasingly popular psychiatric pills, such as Prozac, in various intimate spaces. Mental illness is often referred to as the “invisible disability." This work makes visible several aspects of mental illness, such as the lingering shame and stigma, as well as the popularization of psychiatric medication. The pills are juxtaposed with popular characters from childhood, such as Sesame Street characters and Hello Kitty. I want the shift of these images from a private to a public sphere to contribute to a transformation of this invisible disability - from a silent, shameful experience to a visible and open dialogue.