We never went backpacking
How much do you share as an artist? Does the viewer want to know the artist's story behind a painting? Does that ruin or enhance the experience of looking at a painting, breathing it in? Can it still become your own? Should titles be broad and all encompassing or should they add mystery and intrigue?
"We Never Went Backpacking" could be titled "Hermit Thrush." Would you like it more? Does it influence how you see or feel about the painting?
My creative process usually starts with a title which is usually influenced by an emotion. Is that important to know?
My heart broke this past winter. My cousin died rather unexpectedly. Life isn't suppose to happen that way.
I loved Dean fully. When I think of him I hear his full bodied laugh. I hear him telling family stories loudly. I see him living on top of his mountain in Braintree, Vermont proud of his blueberries, hops, turkeys and family. As far as I am concerned all of Vermont loved Dean. It appeared every single community member in his small town, especially all his middle school students, came to hear the mourner's kaddish chanted for him. You loved Dean if you knew him.
Dean was my twin in his love for the outdoors. Every year we talked about backpacking together. Every year it didn't happen due to jobs, kids, broken bones, mismatched schedules. But there was always next year. We knew it would happen.
We never went backpacking.
Dean died in February. His funeral was on Valentine's Day. All of our hearts broke.
Art helps me process emotions. Art helps me express emotions. Art helps me feel. Art helps me heal. Art helps me love.
What do you want to know as the viewer? Do you want to know that the base layer of "We Never Went Backpacking" is a map of Vermont? Do you want to know that the vibrant colors were designed to communicate my deep feelings of love and loss? Do you want to know that I purposefully worked on cardboard because Dean taught me how to reuse materials? Do you want to know that I carved the Green Mountains into the cardboard to add the texture and depth that I was feeling? Do you want to know the additional textures are school letters and numbers representing Dean's love of teaching? Do you want to know the Hermit Thrush is Vermont's state bird?
How much of this information is important to share as an artist?
I recently listened to a podcast where the artist suggested that a title should never influence the viewer's perception of a painting. The viewer should be allowed her or his own interpretation. I understand this argument. Yet I also believe it is a choice both the artist and the viewer makes.
I asked my daughter what she thought my title combined with the painting was representing. She replied, "global warming."
With love to all,
Breathe it all in. Love it all out.
I thank Mary Oliver daily for those words. They remind me to take a deep breath, listen to the sounds around me, embrace the moment, and see the beauty.
I’ve contemplated a lot recently about who do I want to be as an artist? Why am I painting what I paint? Why am I teaching what I teach? Why are the arts important?
We are complicated beings and these are complicated questions.
I spent a good part of May as the Artist-in-Residence at the Glen Arbor Art Center in northern Michigan. I painted daily in a studio in a barn in a field in the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. I had planned on exploring through art the marks humans have left on the lakeshore. Instead I became enraptured with birds. I am indebted to the Glen Arbor Arts Center for their advice to follow my heart and let the experience guide my painting. What a gift.
Prior to my residency, I had been working on a show for the Peppermint Creek Theatre about homophobia and antisemitism. As I sat outside my studio and quietly watched birds, I thought about the women I had interviewed: Queer Jewish women who were willing to tell me their stories. In my studio in a barn in a field, I found myself painting birds representing these women's stories. In their words I heard strength, courage, love, and a fierce determination to be who they are in a world that doesn’t always want to accept them. Suddenly a swallow represented the woman whose home is her true north, an owl symbolized the wisdom of the two rabbis I interviewed, a hummingbird embodied the fighting spirit of these women, a loon found stillness in just being. The series is titled "Here I Am."
Art is about communicating, imagining, thinking, finding symbols to represent difficult subjects. It’s about honesty. It’s about growth.
I recently taught a workshop focused on the conceptual component of painting. With a lovely group of artists, over three days we asked: Why do you paint what you paint? Can you bare your soul in your art and still have it be universal? Do you have to bare your soul? Do you have to tell your secrets? And most importantly, what are you trying to communicate? Paintings were conceptualized to deal with aging, death, politics, love for children, feeling lonely, feeling blessed – the gamut of human emotions we all confront. Texture. Color. Images. Words.
Art plays a crucial role in transforming, redefining, reimagining our world whether on a personal, regional, or global level.
We are complicated humans living in complicated times. I feel blessed to have art as an avenue to express concepts and emotions. AND I feel blessed to be able to share this with others.
An art journal page from my residency: life lessons.
I'm teaching a three day workshop at the upcoming International Society of Experimental Artists Symposium in Grand Rapids, MI.
Painting for Self Expression
Sept 19-21, 2019.
The City Pulse ran such a nice article about my Here I Am series.
How One Artist Dug Deeper
I've updated my website!
Please check it out: www.jessicakovan.com
Traveling this summer but still want to create? Try out one of my online art journaliing classes! Work at your own pace. I am always just an email away to ask questions!