“Out of the Ashes”
By Beth Blair
August 6, 2017
Opening night…first gallery showing of my art! I feel utterly naked, vulnerable and exhilarated at the same time. The traffic of family, friends, acquaintances and strangers ebb and flow to the back drop of luscious jazz inside the gallery and the beat of bluegrass out on the street. A man walks up to me and says, “ok, take me through your process.” I feel the appreciation of this interest in my heart and my mind goes to the image cartoon eyes popping out of my head, as if I can boil it down to a short conversation as others come in to talk and visit…what I felt in that moment was a curious desire to connect and a reclusive protective thought…this is my sacred practice…how can I share?
I turn to the dress, “Out of the Ashes”, and I see my process. The building blocks of life, slapped on an old wedding dress. Revealing my dark shadows at the bottom…encircling at the foundation and the vibrancy of living lifting into the bold expression that I am now…Living out loud and the softer hermit that dwells deep. This dress, this piece of art, is most certainly a reflection of a living process.
Here is my best articulation of what I experienced both analytically and intuitively as I ventured into to this experiment. It was indeed an experiment because I had never painted on a dress before. “Out of the Ashes” is a bold statement of acceptance of personal growth through healing and transformation. It was a surprising internal and external circling of sorts. Navigating the painting in circular form, at times it felt like wrestling an alligator. It is built on the shoulders of the things in life that may have felt like transgressions, failures, mistakes and disappointments…dark and shadowy. It is funny that I use the image of “built on shoulders”, the dress doesn’t have any by itself!
I named this piece long before it was completed as it birthed itself out of the tearing down of judgements, false beliefs and even disappointments from people close to me. The expectations that I hold for myself is many times too much for others to excel to. That may sound harsh, and it is…but truly I have very high expectations…I make no apologies for it. What I will say is that it is not mine to set the bar for others. I do understand that my path is my path and I set the bar for myself…it is solitary, contemplative, very internal. The paradox of it is I am an extrovert human that seeks engaging interactions…I do bring my analytical mind, musings and symbolism from my internal workings to the exterior. To me everything has meaning. To some, this may be simply a dress with paint on it. There is the possibility to glimpse more, if the viewer is willing…many are stunned by the sheer beauty of the colors and the vibrancy. Other “feel” the power of the physical form, frozen in the stiffened dress. I had a vision of suspending the dress, seamlessly, from the ceiling…I wanted to soften it somehow. I did have a manikin that I was borrowing and it didn’t fit somehow…when the gallery owner said it was a no go with the hanging the dress, she offered her antique dress form. This brought yet another layer of complexity and beauty to the piece. This tattered, vintage, flat chested form quietly whispers of ancestry…the lineage of powerful, beautiful and feminine form of days gone by.
As with the name, “Out of the Ashes”, it may not be surprising that the symbol of the Phoenix has graced my world. It has shown up in group discussions, pictures and now this art project. The Phoenix was calling from the mystical world. What transpires when a Phoenix “rises” out of the ashes is misunderstood by many. The Phoenix is a mythical creature that symbolizes transformation and many say RE-birth. What I found to resonate with me is from the writing of Tina Garnet. “When it feels its end approaching, it builds a nest with aromatic wood and sets it on fire, consumed by flames. A new phoenix arises from the ashes, embalms the ashes of its predecessor in an egg of myrrh and flies it to the city of the Sun to be deposited on the altar of the Sun God.” WOW! When I look at this project, I see how many times I have “seen the end approaching”…a career path, a relationship, a way of thinking or belief and I became something total new in this one life. I am not reborn, I am someone new. I could not possibly survive if I stayed in the dark shadow, traumatic experiences of my life…and yet I stand on the shoulders of that person…I flew those things, embalmed in my tears and sacred oils, to the altar of the Sun. This has freed me to be truly me…
I hope you will visit the Studio 7, 626 W 6th Street in Winston-Salem to see “Out of the Ashes”. She will be there through the month of August. You will also see many of my other paintings in the gallery, each have their story as well. I want to express heartfelt gratitude to my son, Brian, for his love and support. To Marsha Hierl of Studio 7 for hosting my show and her commitment to new artists. To my friends and family, the ones that “SEE” me.
Peace and Blessings, Beth