Monday, June 25, 2012

Bings & Blooms

Bings & Blooms, 6x8 oil on canvas.  Bid on eBay
Warmer colors and warmer shadows seems to be the theme here.  I've fallen in love with warm shadows.  I used to subscribe to the "rule" of cool light, warm shadows, and vise versa but I've  since realized there is a lot more to painting than rules and technique.  At any rate, I DID chill up the light but only slightly.  Enough to say it is merely cooler than the shadows.  Most importantly, I'm happy with the result.  

How often can we say that?  Can anyone honestly say, "no regrets".. ever?  Doubtful.  And I certainly have mine.  I am working daily on that.  I recently read that painting with sensitivity requires living with sensitivity so it seems my painting will (hopefully) reflect more, much more, sensitivity in these current days and years to come. 

My experiences of caring for my mother these last 6 years have taught me a lifetime of lessons.  I only wish I had the "good fortune" to have learned them sooner in my own life and not have waited until I was nearly 50. 

I learned that my mother was a person.  Who knew?  She began as a little girl with a mother and father just like I did only in a hugely different culture.  She was raised in the Mid West in the 1930's, an only child in a town hardly big enough for a post office and one brick school housed k-12.  She was a fun loving teen and a beautiful young woman who married a handsome veteran of the Korean War.  Sadly, his new government job transferred them to the Pacific Northwest away from everything she knew.  Friends and family were a long distance call or snail mail away.  Every couple of years warranted a flight back for a visit.   A fleeting grasp on an otherwise lonely day to day existence. 

My mom had 3 kids in 4 years.  And she raised them without help from hardly anyone as everyone she knew and loved was 1500 miles away.  My dad was a good provider and her soul mate.  They subscribed to the early Midwest  culture as I saw it - Dad brings home the bacon and Mom fries it up in the pan.  If you know what I mean.  Mom did the bulk of the child rearing.  She did that out of respect and consideration for her hard working husband.  After all, we 3 kids were not planned and so a bit of a cog in the gears.  3 babies in 4 years would be a cog in anyone's gears.

I could blame all my woes on my mom.  A lot of us do.  I watch a lot of cop shows and that seems to be the cause for most of the serial killers.  Bad parenting.  I suspect my own children will carry some resentment towards my choices and parenting skills or lack there of.  And rightly so as I was a very young parent with little help myself and struggled from day to day like so many.  But I dont blame my mom for any of my faux pas.  I take full responsibility for my choices.  Apparently, I am a slow learner but the good news is that I eventually do learn. 

I have learned to look inside other people and not just at them.  I have learned discernment is more than simply analyzing behavior.  It's a sensitivity to why the behavior.  I've learned that we are molded by our past, what others have said and done to us and also by our hopes and dreams and how they pan out.  Not just me but everyone around me.  You and your neighbor too.  And the mailman.  And the annoying phone solicitors at 5 PM when you're trying to put dinner together.   We all have a history.  Good or bad it's our story.  How we read it is a whole 'nother animal.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Pitcher & Blueberries

Pitcher & Blueberries, 8x8 Oil on canvas.   Bid on eBay

This is from my stash.  I painted this in December and was saving it while I accumulated a body of work suitable for gallery representation.  I particularly liked the background in this one and the sexy, lost edges on my Longaberger pitcher.   I also love the arrangement of the blueberries; the way they pile then softly spill and gently roll away.  Some to the floor.  One was stepped on. Fruiticide is not uncommon in my studio.  :(  

This painting, as I said, is from December, my otherwise past life.  An era gone by.  A time forgotten.  This was a time when I was dodging visits to mom or else running her errands.  Buying her Ensures, taking her to dr appointments.  My husband took care of her bills while I did all the follow up calls to the incompetent billing departments who could never get the billing vs. payments straight.  That was then.  It seemed as though it could go on forever.  No end in sight.  Were it not for her Alzheimer's mom was in fairly good health and in her 70's.  I could see at least 10, maybe 20 more years of this.  So I settled in.  Got comfortable in my role.  Learned to love this new person and new responsibility to me.

And I did love her.  She was fragile and getting more so week by week.  She began losing weight.  Gradually but steadily.  She developed a bed sore.  No matter the care she received from her caregivers at the facility, it worsened.  In fact, became so bad it seemed to become the focus of attention.  Morphine was given and dressings were changed regularly but it persisted and worsened regardless.

I purchased a canister of protein supplement powder, the kind athletes use, to help her body repair the damage but it wasnt enough.  Especially since she began to refuse nourishment.  I was asked to consider hospice.  Hospice?  For my mom?  I could hardly believe what I was hearing.  Hospice always meant to me that a person was in the last days of their life.  I didnt see that as a reality.  What I saw was my mother degenerating but I accepted that it would likely go on for an inconceivably long time.

I spoke to hospice who did, in fact, admit her but I was told that many, many people will stabilize and "graduate" off of hospice. Some go off and on hospice several times.  So it was my new perception that mom just needed a little extra help to get her through this bed sore issue then she would probably, most likely, definitely "graduate back to her current status.

Hospice became a new era for me.  In this era I educated.  Sadly, we so often learn our valuable lessons far to late in life.  I wish I had be wiser sooner.  Here I was, 48 years old and only now realizing, really realizing, who my mother was.  I began to see her, not through the eyes of her child but as an individual watches another individual.  As her child, I couldnt see the forest for the trees.  But during the hospice interview, questions were asked which planted seeds in my thoughts.  Questions.  I evaluated mom from a whole new perspective.

Hospice changes things.  Mortality for one.  And if you will go there: retrospective.  The possibility of moms death was a springboard to the reality of her life.  And how the reality of her life molded mine. 

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Pears And Grapes #2,  Oil on Canvas. 

I have taken on a looser brush it seems.  It's interesting that as I write  the events of my past I see my painting techniques unfold in new patterns.  It has always been a goal of mine to paint looser.  Actually, I find that is a goal of many artists.  Not that painting photo-realistic is easier, but it seems the way of the beginner most of the time.  We learn to paint an apple by looking at the apple and then we paint what we see.  Loosening up requires a shift in the thought process.  For me anyway.  It would be unreasonable for me to assume how other artists approach their techniques.

I'm not sure if I can explain my process yet as I'm not sure I completely understand it myself.  It's like a place I go to when I'm painting where I dont have so many restrictions.  It's like no one is looking over my shoulder anymore and it's just for me.  I cant say for sure that I felt restricted before just that I feel less restricted now.  I dont know how long I will be able to achieve this technique or if it was accidental.  Only time will tell for sure.

If you will indulge me for a moment once again I'd like to explore another experience with mom.  When I first put her in assisted living, I had hoped that would solve much of my chaos.  In fact, it did not.  She called me daily.  Several times daily. Sometimes every 15 minutes.  She fell into a deep depression and I was told she needed a "more structured environment" aka: an Alzheimer's facility.  That was the last time she used my name.

I was told that moms dementia had escalated and the assisted living facility she was in gave her to much freedom and hence to many decisions to make thus causing her frustration and ultimately, fear and depression.  Dad was no longer there to call the shots and direct her.  Of course, I see that now.

The new facility was great.  The staff was loving and considerate to the residents.  Their aim was preserving dignity.  I saw that.  I also saw mom living amongst people nearly catatonic in some cases and 'delightfully addled" in others.  That worried me but mom never questioned any decisions I made.  She never argued with me.  In fact, she rarely talked anymore.  A few words at a time was all she could manage and often they were random words not relating to anything.  She was declining. 

I dont know if she remembered who I was and I was afraid to ask.  Visitation was harder and harder as I was the only one talking and I would run out of things to say quickly.  I learned to never ask questions.  It caused pain and frustration when she tried to answer.   I was responsible for her well being and I had no idea what I was doing.  I feared I was not doing enough.

It wasnt until several years later that I finally figured out the key.  Several years.  The things that went through my head in that time.  My mom was healthy were it not for her Alzheimer's.   Healthy enough anyway.  I didnt see an end in sight.  I didnt know if that was good or bad.  I had guilt.  I began to consider my own arrangements should I be diagnosed with the same disease.  I would not want it to drag out like this.  My mother was not thriving.  She was barely surviving.  I had no idea if she even remembered her faith.  She quit asking about dad.  She quit talking period.  She slept most of the time.  She ate only when the staff reminded her to.  Then she would sleep again.

My visits went from daily to weekly to every two weeks.  What difference did it make?  Everyday I'd count down the days until my next visit until I couldnt put it off anymore.  Then, after I left, a brief feeling of relief that I was okay for another two weeks.  I dreaded it.  Dont get me wrong, I loved my mom.   I hated what what happening to her.  I was an orphan in the making - or was I one already?

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Super Red Apple, 6x6 oil on canvas.  Bid on eBay.

This is a new palette for me.  I suppose it is analogous as the colors are side by side on the color wheel: red, orange and purple but with the added interest of reds compliment - green.  I think it gives the painting a dreamy appeal.  Subdued to a degree.  I see my palette coming down these days.  Gone are the chiaroscuro dramas or the high key explosively happy little pieces.   This painting is soft, romantic and, like I mentioned, dreamy.  In my opinion anyway.

I painted this about two weeks ago.   It was just before my husband whisked me away on a two week road trip to New Mexico.  I needed a vacation.  Or better said, I needed a distraction.

As I've mentioned in previous posts, my father passed away and I found myself in the position of caring for my mother who, it turned out, had Alzheimer's.  HAD.  As it turns out, when the primary caretaker of an Alzheimer's patient passes away (and they generally do when they are the spouse, it seems) the patient loses the one thing that keeps them grounded and can spiral downhill rapidly.  This was explained to me by the local Alz facility.   And spiral she did.  Within one week after dads death, it was clear mom was no longer who I thought she was.  Keep in mind, dad had never mentioned moms illness nor did he mention she was diagnosed by a neurologist several years previously.  But the elephant was in the room none the less.

So there I was with some hard choices to make without the backup of a diagnosis.  Sure, I took her to the dr.  The nurse said it was normal for her to have these lapses following the death of a spouse.   But I felt the nurse was not seeing the big picture.  The dr gave her a 10 min memory test - which she somehow passed and sent us home.   My life became pure chaos at that point.  Mom was definitely not fine.  I saw it and so did moms neighbor who eventually convinced me to do the unthinkable.  Put her in a home.  But even that wasnt enough.  

My life became a series of dr visits, facility visits.  Phone calls with lawyers, drs, nurses, CPA's, brokers, insurance agents.. you name it.  Every flat surface in my house was covered with moms paperwork in an effort to settle dads estate and care for mom.  Every day I had projects to deal with regarding moms health, well being and estate.  I had her home to clean (48 years of marriage) and prepare to sell, not to mention my own home and small farm to keep up.   I was taxed.  My brain was turning to mush.  I was unprepared for this and unqualified.  I do not do details.  I wanted things to go back to the way they were.  I wanted dad back and I wanted to pretend mom was fine, just fine.  I wanted to be selfish again.

Things were crazy but I knew they were not unique.  I was one in a hundred million other folks in the same desperate scenario.  And who was I to feel sorry for myself?  It was my mother who needed compassion.  She was the one who was losing her mind.  And she knew it.  She didnt understand what was happening and it scared her.  I knew what was happening and it really scared me.  I had a pretty good idea what lay ahead but I had no idea how long it would take.  All I could do was watch and wait.  I never told her she had Alzheimer's.   

Those were desperate times.  Keeping it together was a full time job.  Painting was a drug.  Once the brush was wet with paint the world could stop spinning and I would be none the wiser.  Those were my chiaroscuro days.   Thankfully (?), those days are behind me.



Monday, June 04, 2012

BluePearry #2

BluePearry #2, 6x6 oil on canvas.  Bid on eBay

This is a painting over a painting.  That's not unusual I'm told.  Many, many artists have done so.  Some to save on materials.  This wasnt a green project though.  I have an armory of canvas and back up of paint.  The only thing I ever lack would be subjects since I'm not a huge fruit eater just a fruit painter.

I painted over part of this painting because it wasnt right.  I had 2 pears.  And the background was light.  Bright.  I couldnt live with it and actually had it in the burn pile.  Generally, once a painting is dry, it's done.  I dont like painting on a dry surface. But if I was going to make this painting 'right' I was going to have to get over it and work it.  This was going to be a challenge for me and possibly take the fun out of it.   Yet, for whatever reason, I went for it.

I repainted the background taking out a pear.  I scraped off the new background leaving a mess.  I repainted again.  Nope.  Again - this time darker.  I stepped back.  Really?  Why so much effort for a 6x6?  Why not? I like the darker.  It works for me.  I like the way some of the blueberries disappear in the dark.  And I really like the pot bellied pear and the way it pops against the blues.  More paint.  Gotta see those brush strokes.  Just a tad of light in the upper right.  In order to do this right I had to remix blueberry and  pear colors  and repaint edges. 

At the end of the day, I was happy with my new painting, re-signed and put it aside to dry.

I put more effort into things these days.  Someone once told me, "if it's worth doing, it's worth doing right".  I've given that a lot of thought, believe it or not. Folding clothes, loading the dishwasher, day to day whatevers and most definitely - painting.  That saying creeps into my thoughts at the most inconvenient times it seems.  No more eeking by. No more scurrying through.  If I'm going to do it, I better do it right.  And once again I ask, "why not?"  What else am I going to do?  What's the hurry? 

I have the rest of my life to accomplish the rest of my life.  But what if I didnt?  What if the rest of my life was imprisoned in an uncooperative body unwilling and unable to accomplish - anything?  What if I have the Alzheimer's gene and lose my mind - literally?  Once the mind is gone, so is the body.  And then what?  I know what. I saw it.  I saw it from the beginning and when I questioned it I was told I was "making mountains out of mole hills".  But I had red flags.  I didnt brush off the indications that something was wrong.  After all, nobody asks the same question, word for word, with the same inflections, 3 times, only seconds apart when it's been answered each time.  I saw and I knew but buried it because dad was taking care of it.  He never mentioned it or asked for help so we could go about our selfish little lives none the wiser, even if we were. 

So I repainted Bluepearry #2.  Might as well get it right.  And I'm glad I did.  Who knows what tomorrow brings?