I was still taking upper level art classes, still changing my imagery. I drew and painted an odd flower image from a dream. I had several drawings in my sketchbook as well as a big painting. I swear I left a roll of paintings in the basement in Memphis, unless they got all sooty and gross from the fire in Memphis 1998 (Steve’s theory). Anyway I did a big painting of one of these flowers. I think my big paintings were 3’x4’ in size.
I drew my first female imagery, my first twat forms.
Professor L. assigned us a class project to bring in an article or book chapter and discuss. I brought a chapter from Judy Chicago’s “Through the Flower,” about the Womanhouse project (1972 Los Angeles). I also included a poem by Anne Sexton, “In Celebration of my Uterus.” My presentation sparked a lot of discussion about feminism. Professor L. discussed how few female professors get tenure. A few years later she went up for tenure and was denied (this means you are fired). Fellow female students began doing female imagery as well.
I didn’t come up with my final Portfolio work until the very end, in Spring Quarter of 1989. I sat on my bedroom floor one evening and stapled 6”x6” squares of raw canvas to a little board I found somewhere and painted abstract figures. I worked quickly, stapling, painting, pulling them off and stapling more up, stacking them up wet. I did a LOT of them. I saved a few (since many were similar). The figures were leaping, dancing abstract female figures.
These are original 1989 figures, photographed recently.
Here is a scanned slide of all of them taped on a wall, photographed on slide film in 1989, digitally scanned recently (by GoPhoto):
NOTE: Picture is very blurry-sorry!
I wasn’t sure what to do about these figures. I don’t remember what I was doing in the studio at school, but Professor L. was not happy with our work and said out loud in the studio that some of us didn’t seem ready for Final Portfolio Review and some of us may not graduate. I just love it when faculty threaten students like that, such a power trip. After four years at GSU I was ready to be done and move on. I went home and pulled my portfolio work out of my ass. I just started painting and working.
Due to cost, I worked on unstretched canvas (stretcher bars are quite pricey). I stapled them to the wall and painted, kind of making it up as I went along. I brought in several to a meeting with my Portfolio Committee, Professors M. and L. as well as Jim M. the Animation professor (I had taken one animation class with him). Professor L. was surprised. She said, “This is all new work! I haven’t seen any of this!”
I kept my abstract figures in little squares in the paintings and surrounded them with all of the stuff that I had done before. Checkerboards, symbols, clocks, geometric shapes drawn with rulers and messy splotchy painting.
All the stuff that I surrounded my figures with hid the figure. The figures were in a chaotic environment. This was a point I was trying to make. But in doing so, I hid my message. As I myself was hiding, unable to speak out. The figures were the work, but I tried to put them into a context, full of images, shapes and color, but it was all crap. I surrounded my figures with crap. I got lost in all that crap.
I have always wanted to express myself, to express what is inside me. A reaction against being shushed and told I could not speak, a reaction to keeping things strangled inside myself. But I was afraid to seek attention. I was a shy Fat Girl ashamed of my fat body, ashamed of myself, ashamed of what I had inside me, believing it wasn’t any good, believing I was worthless.
I read some Madonna unauthorized biographies and they all said that Madonna loved ‘all eyes on me.’ I have always hated that. I shrank from being called on in class. I hated getting up in front of people. Even in Memphis at the gaming table I would get a rush of panic when it was my turn and everyone looked at me.
My BFA Portfolio Committee loved this work, but I couldn’t feel good about it because I had resorted to abstract artwork due to lack of skills. I felt like a fraud. I wrote an artist’s statement trying to rationalize these paintings. I said I was combining elements I had used in past work and together they played off each other and functioned as a mapping of my experience, a visual diary of my feelings suggesting layers of my experience but also part fantasy and dreams. The body in motion was used to describe emotions. Female imagery was used to discuss feelings and identity as a woman. I combined precise brushwork with loose brushwork and washes.
I answered their damn question: I am painting for myself, to myself, rather than for the audience. I didn’t want to have to spell everything out for the audience, to make sure they knew what I was talking about.
After our meeting on April 13, 1989 I wrote down something Jim M. said: [saving a moment back then]
“I may not know a lot about the art world – not just painting at GSU but painting that’s going on around the world, maybe because of a generation gap or lack of interest – but you have really educated me about painting. And I’m not just saying that because I was late!”
Professor M. said I had a fan club.
These are the only two photos I currently have of the BFA paintings. I recently sent off my slides to have digital prints made – when I get them back I will do a blog post with just my BFA paintings.
I wrote the following on June 6, 1989:
During my last Portfolio meeting – May 30, 1989 – they went on and on about the constant inventing in my work. Jim M. called my images my “cast of characters” and said I continually invent new ways of using them. M. said that with some art you look at it, leave, and it doesn’t stay with you, but he said my work gives them something to take with them. M. also said he was impressed at the quality and quantity of my work considering I worked almost totally alone – all self-motivated. I was also motivated to graduate! I can’t remember offhand anything specific L. said, but she did like the work, and was impressed by how much work I’d done and she suggested I call Nexus to see about showing it. I saw M. today and he told me to “Keep in touch!” Today is also my FINAL FINAL!!!
Nexus was a local art gallery. I did not call any galleries. I took my paintings home and collapsed. I graduated with my Bachelor of Fine Arts degree.
And by July I was in my next Shit Office Job, on campus, in a department in the College of Business.