I did something extraordinary today. I threw out one of my pieces. Done. Tossed into the garbage. It was a six-foot by eight-foot canvas covered in black felt. There were five silhouette figures of women on it and a real umbrella attached to one of them. Each figure was created by painting 20 coats of liquid latex mixed with pigment on a tree trunk in a silhouette shape and then, very gently, peeling it off. Along the bottom of the canvas was a gathered piece of black fabric that reminded me of a river connecting the women. To me this piece represented a global community of women, multi-racial and multi-cultural, on their way to market to provide sustenance for their families. Nourishing, nurturing, the power and resolve of women. The static movement and stature of the figures were reminiscent of Seurat’s “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grand Jatte”, hence, the name, “Monday Morning Anywhere”.
I remember checking the weather to determine when I could add another coat. My limits were 25 degrees to 85 degrees. If it was too hot, the latex wouldn’t dry. At the other extreme, was the cold. One evening my son and I went outside in our hats, coats and boots to peel off the figure before a snowstorm started. He steadied the flashlight as I peeled, both of us freezing! It took an enormous amount of patience, and I was so grateful for his help.
Using latex as a component of a finished piece is a fairly unknown technique, as far as I know. Years ago when I made it I knew that its lifespan was unproven. The people at the foundry who use it for reproducing sculptures could not guide me on how long the material would last before disintegrating. I chose to experiment anyway. It lasted for many years.
Recently becoming aware of toxic materials in creating art and in the home, I have been noticing how I feel. When the gallery was under construction, and this piece was placed close to my desk, I didn’t like how I felt being around it. It smelled and seemed to emit a toxic energy. I covered it with plastic and felt better.
I loved the piece, and was happy when the new gallery was finished so it could be hung on the wall and away from direct contact. It was majestic as it took over the space. But something was bothering me. If it was indeed toxic, and I believe that it was, then I didn’t want it in my home even if I wasn’t often in the same room. And, I didn’t want to sell it to anyone else and have it in their home. Impulsive, but sure of how I felt, I had the men take it off the wall and cart it away. “Really? Into the garbage? Are you sure?” they asked. “Yes!” (but not really!) I cringed as they carried it out. So much work went into it! I’ll never have it again!
I miss it. I loved it. I feel the loss. But, I feel that I made the right decision. The energy feels better. There is an empty space on the wall. As I was on the beach today I started collecting objects, intrigued by rocks with shells naturally cemented to them and shells shimmering like pearls. Could this become a new wall hanging? Organic and natural,exciting and fresh. Who knows?
Addendum: The day after I posted this blog, I saw a cousin who recently had dinner with Andre Emmerich, owner of a prestigious gallery in New York. Andre told him that the difference between a good artist and a great one is that a great artist can throw out his work. Although he was referring to discarding work that was of a lesser quality, and my purpose was to discard materials that were toxic, the essence is the same: art is an organic process ever changing, and growth means pulling out weeds so that beautiful flowers can flourish and be stronger.