Monday, May 1, 2017

Stepping Into The Chrysalis

In my last post, I wrote about the concept of liminality, a period of transformation arising from disruption.  I had decided I was going to do a painting on that theme, but where to begin? 

Starting is always challenging, especially when you don't know quite where you are going. I've learned over time that the destination usually emerges once I begin. People often ask me how long a painting takes, a productivity perspective that has little to do with creating anything that doesn't come with a set of instructions.  Painting is itself a liminal process, a series of thresholds to cross and transformations that are often difficult to predict or to time. So, let me take you through the process to illustrate that statement.

 I had picked up three canvases that I thought might be interesting to work with, each was one foot wide and three feet high. In thinking of liminality, I thought I might do a three part piece with the central piece representing liminality.  To kick myself into gear, I did an abstract image on two of the panels using my favorite colors. It looked like a landscape except that the blue along the inside of each canvas resembled a figure which I then pulled out a bit giving it volume. Hmm, looks a bit like someone burning at the stake. While that may relate to our theme of otherness, it wasn't where I wanted to go.

Instead I moved on to another  image it evoked, that of a cocoon. It was through this path that I began to explore one of the ultimate liminal beings, a metaphor unfolding before our eyes, the butterfly.  Its transformation is not an easy road. First that caterpillar must shed his skin, destroying his being to begin anew. It is through imagination, actually a scientific word imaginal discs, that he reshapes himself, forming wings that were always hidden deep within. 

A figure overlaid
Chrysalis gestating
My figure turned into a chrysalis on two of the canvases. I was  still contemplating a middle section that would represent the in-between of liminal space. In the final stage of a chrysalis you can actually see the wings through the chrysalis. There are gold spots on a chrysalis that add a decorative touch which is also believed to be functional in its development. It makes a chrysalis seem both mysterious and precious. In fact, the word chrysalis comes from the Greek word for gold. I never could quite decide what to put on that middle panel, but I kind of liked that chrysalis so I set it aside to gestate against the wall of my studio.

One day I painted a figure across the panels converting into a winged form (above right). Then decided it would look too divided across two canvases and pulled it back to one. The figure looked like it was opening a door in the middle so I created a door to the chrysalis, feeling a bit like a cartoon character who paints a door and then steps through it. In keeping with the caterpillar to butterfly progression, I dressed the woman in a long caterpillar dress, her feet bracing against the canvas edge as if she were climbing up the chrysalis.

I opened the two panels as if they were doors, contemplating what might lie behind them. I was no longer thinking about an exposed middle section, but rather a hidden section behind the doors. I was intrigued by the words imaginal discs. These house the beginning of wings, antennae, legs. They are the building blocks of a butterfly.  I looked up images of them and decided to fill the panel behind the doors with an abstract of imaginal discs, a caterpillar soup out of which butterflies grow.  

I painted them on a  36"x24" canvas that would be covered by the two canvases of the cocoon. Then I realized I needed a back for the two front panels if I was to make a triptych and allow it to open.  I painted an extension of imaginal discs on masonite that would slide behind the original two paintings.  It is a triptych covered by a diptych, but I anticipate showing it with the doors slightly open. An unanticipated synchronicity, it resembles an ark that would house a Torah, something that also addresses passages to transformation. 

Now my husband has the task of framing this odd structure.  Fortunately for me, he seems to like these challenges. We anticipate framing it with a gold frame with a very thin edging dividing the two central panels.

I like the idea of something hidden, gestating, preparing for transformation. This piece is about stepping into the chrysalis, that cauldron of change, where we strip ourselves down to become someone new, drawing on qualities hidden deep within us.

1 comment:

  1. I have found myself thinking about the caterpillar transformation at least once or twice a day--who could imagine that the pieces of the final animal would be inside the caterpillar?