It’s been brought to light (as if it wasn’t already known!) that the more gruesome and violent a subject is, the more the general public want it. This type of ‘slowing down to view a train wreck’ mentality is the reason tabloids exist, and it has been a business model since the first “sale” in the Garden. Death is, and was, a selling point.
I have made it quite clear in my art that I am a survivor of a assault and a familiar traveler down violent pathways in my past. I did not deliberately do this as a ruse to sell my work, or portray violence and/or abuse in a gratuitous way, at least not consciously. Truth be told, it was tempting. I guess it’s human nature to want success and fame (and money! Lots of money!) I create art to soothe my inner beast, inner child, inner needs. It’s not so much something I do, it’s more something I am. I never hide the fact that I’m ‘on the spectrum’ of mental illness as a person with Bipolar Disorder, nor am I ashamed to be 22 years clean and sober. I was in 12 Step programs long enough to believe that I could help someone else to heal by sharing my “experience, strength and hope”, and thought that others could find their own voice by ‘hearing’ mine in my art.
As I move alone my lonely Artist’s road, and along life’s road in general, I go thru periods of mental and emotional calm, when the trauma of my past is forgotten for a time. During these welcome days of peaceful contemplation it is easy for an observer to believe that my past can just stay buried like that, or that it can just evaporate like water spilled on a hot patio. Unfortunate for me, and perhaps annoying for the onlooker, is that abuse and trauma are not harmless like water…these events are as caustic as acid burning into and etching stone. So while the stain of spilled inert liquid can disappear or be wiped away, as perhaps the memory of a childish disagreement may be, my experiences have left their permanent imprint in my psyche.
For this reason my PTSD is always waiting, just behind a shadow, a raised hand, a backfire or even the clank of a dish in the sink. As my art is an extension of what is going on in this amazing brain of mine, the experiences of my life naturally find their expression in my work. It may not cause you to like my art any better, but it may explain why people like me sound like broken records at times. In some respects we are! The ‘record’ of our life has a big scratch in it, so it keeps skipping!
Having said this it stands to reason that I have been triggered by the murder and suspected domestic assault of Gabby Petito. It has pushed so many buttons in my brain that I find myself re-living many events from my past, and suffering a lot because of this. I find the events in recent weeks so tragic, as we all do. And for her youth and delicate nature it is all the more painful for me to see. It’s bizarre, because my mental illness can empathize with her so profoundly-yet can still berate the younger version of me for my “stupidity” at being prey.
How far I have come to find myself right back where I started! The human mind is a dangerous place to get lost! For all that, I hope I have imparted a smidgen of understanding to you, maybe it will help you to be patient with a loved one who has experienced trauma. Maybe it can help you to be kinder to a family member, a co-worker, a stranger in line at the grocery store.
Even better, perhaps it can help you look at the person you are hardest on with some compassion, some understanding, forgiveness and love. Especially since you both live in the same skin.
I posted the following a week or so ago, and now realize that recent events have me stuck in my memories. But that is ok, this will pass, the wounds will close again and the past will get packaged back up and put away till the next triggering event. I am sorry that people are injured and murdered by the very ones that they love the most. One day soon that will change, and no one will ever suffer again. Hold on to that thought! (Yes! I will!)
At 9 years old, I would draw horses. Endlessly, horses. I dreamed all day that I was riding. On a car ride I could see myself, astride my paint pony Gypsy, galloping alongside the car. Clearing fences, logs…even buildings! But after a while the dreams stopped, after being abused by the old man who owned the riding stable. He let us ride for free in exchange for work…but it became a different kind of bargain as time went on.
Those experiences caused me to retreat inward, my art becoming my secret language, the only release valve I had for all the agony inside. My secret language. I tried to share it with my Mom, who waved me away with a “That’s nice dear, now be quiet…my show is on.” Or her other favorite response to my art, “Why don’t you paint something ‘nice’ Susie…like flowers instead of monsters…” And Dad? Well, he thought he was as good as the “old masters” because of two small oils he had done in college; portraits with oil so thick as to be impasto on little 8 x 10 boards. So his critique was that going to art school wasn’t a “realistic” pursuit for a girl. (Even in my 50’s while being his full time caregiver as he declined with dementia, he would tell others in the galleries that his brother painted the works I was showing! Too funny!) My Grandma would ask why I didn’t paint greeting cards for Hallmark, and sent me for sewing lessons… SIGH…
I hid my artwork after a while. My monsters were not going to stand for such ridicule by a family who never bothered to notice anything else about me! And classmates? HA! All they wanted to do was call me weird and copy my answers or ideas…so I hid my art, and myself- behind pot smoke and loud rock, crazy Ozzy makeup and blue-black hair. And lots and lots of self-hate, and hate for authority, preppies, parents and disco to boot!
Along with the dope smoking were psychedelics: Now my art could really soar. Even dropping blotter acid while going to class was not unheard of. Bursting out in maniacal laughter in my Chemistry class got me banned for life from that teacher, who I’m sure bad his turn experimenting with LSD in his own school days… The art I was turning out fascinated my friends who would stare for hours at my drawings, flipping out at all the images hidden therein. And as time went on I was hidden in them also.
After years of lonely trails, finally clean and sober, properly diagnosed as bipolar I now recognize the reasons why I still hide these haunted self portraits in so many of my works. The lifetime of abuse in all it’s forms has ended, and I have allowed myself to come out of the shadows in so many ways. But the flashbacks still come, and the pain must have an outlet so that it can’t devour me anymore.