18” x 24”
Acrylic on wood.
Detailed image here
So, the idea for this painting came from a few different narratives that blended together. My friend Francis Willey (a man of many talents, among them photographer, poet, composer, and pianist) and I have wanted to collaborate for some time, so he suggested that I create an image for the cover of his poetry book due out some time this year. His work is very mysterious and magical in nature, and the poems he sent me for inspiration had a common thread of melancholic beauty— stories of love and loss, joy and sorrow— like the ethereal blending of light and shadows that bring life to his photographs. He also sent me some of his piano music, and so with words, images, and music, I had a rich, multi-sensory expression of this visionary artist :)
During the process of coming up with an image, I also came across the story of composer-pianists Robert and Clara Schumann, as told through their love letters and music in a production called “Twin Spirits.” Each of their voices is narrated through spoken word and music, and their heart-rending story felt like a perfect fit with the themes in Francis’ work. They have a very interesting story, but here are some key points:
-Robert studied under Clara's father, and the couple married against her father’s wishes
-They had 8 children (4 of them died within Clara's lifetime).
-Clara enjoyed an illustrious career from an early age, overshadowing her husband’s success during their time. She went on to interpret and promote his music in her own concerts, despite the cool reception to his work from critics.
-Robert was plagued by mental instability and depression. He attempted suicide in 1854 and later turned himself into an insane asylum, where he remained until his death.
-Clara bore all—her musical career, raising children, and managing the household. She was forbidden to see her husband for 2 years and admitted only when he was on his deathbed.
This piece is partly based on those 2 years. Here are some details: the couple appears twice, the image of them at the piano is based on this photograph ; their children line up on the left behind her main figure; a host of haunting but comforting spirits, memories, and music come to life from the wallpaper around her; one of his many letters to her is still in her hand; the sea partly symbolizes the Rhine River which he attempted to drown himself in, and which symbolically separated them for the rest of their lives.
It just so happened that while I was painting this, my sister was overseas for 2 weeks on a business trip, and it was the first time that we’ve been separated for such a long stretch of time. Suddenly, this became my story as well— the main character is separated from a loved one by oceans, memories seem to fade in her long hours of waiting, and with only a stream of letters in her hands, she tries to re-conjure images, emotions, sounds…anything that may remind her of this lost ‘other spirit’, her other half.
And in a different way, Francis and I are connected through this collaboration, but we are geographically distant, so I see this as yet another communication of spirits. :) So, a huge thanks to him for providing so much inspiration for this painting! I encourage you to follow his facebook fanpage, here.
Those of you in the UK can see this painting in person next week at the “Art From the New World” Group Exhibition. The private reception is on May 14th (7-10:30pm) and the public opening is during the opening hours of the museum on Saturday, 10am-5pm. The show will be on view until August 22nd. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
My piece made it onto one of the posters for the show :) You can see it here. There will also be lots of events associated with the opening, which you can learn more about on this page.
Alas...I will be on this side of the Atlantic, busily painting away for my next show and green with jealousy at all of the lucky attendees ;)
Until next time...