Sunday, January 08, 2012

Painting on the Moon

I have not painted for a while. Apmam desde mamenta yu’. Halacha’ gof tinane’ yu’ ni’ i che’cho’-hu, ya sesso gof machalpon i hinasso-ku siha yan ti nahong i semnak gi i ha’åni.


The other day, as if to start the new year fresh, my daughter Sumåhi pressured me to paint with her and her brother. They had received a brand new set of paints for Christmas and had been eager to use them. So even though I had plenty of things to do, I relented and got out several sheets of paper for us to paint with. When Akli’e’ paints, he primarily uses his fingers. Dipping the tips into the paint cups and then smearing them on his arms and occasionally on the waiting paper in front of him. Sumåhi is much more controlled when she paints, and sometimes appears stoic and almost pained as she attempts to force the paints to form familiar animal shapes. She ended the night with an impressive painting of two afula’ or manta rays. The manta rays were pink, while the ocean around them was a color-coordinated grey-blue.

For me, I decided to try out some monotypes.

I found myself trying to create painterly images from favorite song lyrics of mine. I usually begin the new year by listening to favorite songs of mine and reflecting on certain meanings they contain, and so I decided to try and paint, in an abstract and expressive rather than literal way, what those lyrics might symbolize. For example, take this lyrics “and in the end / the love you take / is equal to the love / you make” which is from the song “The End” from The Beatles.

Rather than draw hearts that people were making and taking all in the style of a Peter Max Yellow Submarine dreamscape, I draw a horizon line down the middle of the painting, and divided the lyrics into the sky and the earth. In the sky, I created an image akin to love being created. On the earth I tried to symbolize love being taken. The result was tumultuous. It is something that if I were to title it “The End” most might think it is a reference to the apocalypse since the sky appears to be an explosion, while the land more of a shockwave. But art is all about treading that fun and frustrating line between creating something that feels special and expressive to you as the artist and creating something that will appeal to others, or something that they might feel some sort of special connection to.

I will always remember the story of the man who bought the painting “Red” from me. This was more than 10 years ago when I first starting out in Guam as an artist. I had signed up for a table at the Guam Micronesian Island Fair, and even though I was selling abstract work that people usually grimaced when they would see it, I actually ended up selling close to a thousand dollars worth of paintings. One man in particular, whose name I don’t know and can’t even really remember what he looked like, made a particularly strong impact on me. He was glancing through my stacks of matted and shrink wrapped paintings. He didn’t seem interested in any of them, and seemed like he was about to move on and buy a sarong from the woman selling next to me, when he seemed to freeze in place holding one of my paintings.

I asked him if he needed help, had any questions, and was about to ask him if I needed to call a doctor to help him with his sudden paralysis, when he asked me how much the painting he was holding was. He had chosen one of my favorites that I had created up until that point, it was titled “Red.” I was selling it for $60, which is a lot of my paintings, since I usually sell them at around $20-$30, since they are small. He agreed to my price and handed over the money. I asked him what struck him about the painting that made him want to buy it. He said, he wasn’t sure, but the image just seemed to fit his life. He looked at the red and black slashes and he felt like this was a perfect image of his life. He wasn’t a fan of abstract art he admitted, and he really didn’t like most of my paintings, but when he looked at this one, it just felt like I had summed him up so well with this single image.

He thanked him for his money, he appreciation and even his honesty (na ti ya-ña i otro pinenta-ku siha), and watched him continue touring the tables of vendors. I didn’t expect to see him again, but he ended up coming back hours later during the evening, because he had apparently found the reason for the seemingly random connection between him and my painting. When he returned he was even more excited than when he left. He stood next to me and he held my painting up to me and pointed down to the bottom right hand corner, where next to my signature was the date that I painted it on. He asked me if I knew what the significance of that date was. I replied that as I far as I knew, it was the day I painted the painting and nothing more. He slapped a hand on my shoulder and told me, “this is my birthday. You painted this on my birthday.” Apparently he hadn’t even noticed this when he had purchased it, but seen it later when showing it to a friend.

This was a truly unique, but important moment for me. I had not created that image for anyone other than myself, yet someone had seen themselves in such a deep and intimate in that painting. I treasure any moment where something like that takes place. It reminds me of why I love being an artist, even if I don’t get to create as much art as I used to.

One of the songs that I was thinking of as I was painting was the standard “Fly Me to the Moon” which has apparently been covered by everything on their cousin, but I known best from the ending credits of the anime Evangelion. I’ve pasted below my Chamorro version of the song. If I ever am, for whatever crazy reason, offered a recording deal one day, this will be for sure on my first album.

Konne yu’ guatu
Asta i pilan yan estreyas
Na’li’e’ yu’ hafa i lina’la’ guihi guatu giya Jupiter yan Mars
Otro fino’-ta, toktok yu’
Otro fino’-ta, nene, chiku yu’
Na’bula i korason-hu
Ni’ i taifinakpo’ na kanta-mu
Hagu ha’ i malago-hu, todu ni’ hu adora
Otro fino’-ta, na’tininas hao
Otro fino’-ta, hu guaiya hao!
While this song was in my head I found myself painting over and over images of the moon. In one painting I put a sprawling city over the face of the moon. In another I tried to blend a quiet face onto its surface. In some the moon floats proudly before a lovely, mood-lightening pastel sunset. For others, it cowers, about to be swallowed up by a menacing darkness.

This is one of my favorites that I was able to paint, I eventually titled it, "The Colonization of the Moon."

I hope that in 2012 I get to paint more than I was able to in 2011.

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