Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Golden Days

My sister is an artist--and an excellent one at that. Her workplace, Golden Apple Studio, is bright, airy, and stuffed to the gills with impressive (and huge) canvasses displayed on the walls, leaning along the perimeter of the room and standing on gigantic easels that flank the windows. Many of these same paintings have spent considerable time on display in art galleries and exhibits, garnering several awards and bringing her much-deserved recognition. She is well-respected in her profession and devoted to her passion, that of expressing important, often hidden truths of the human experience through fine art. Although she is skilled in photography, drawing, watercolors and other artistic mediums, her favorite (at the moment, at least) is oil painting. She spent eight years preparing herself, earning two associate's degrees, a bachelor's degree, and ultimately, a Masters of Fine Arts degree from one of the nation's most prestigious colleges of art and design. During those busy years, she worked full-time, raised three children and still managed to achieve the rank of Valedictorian of her graduating class. She's quite a woman.

Before I arrived for my visit up here, I told her that one of my goals was to spend time writing in her studio while she worked on the second painting in her latest series. We're doing that now. I can smell her oil paints, hear the background music she plays to keep her company, and furtively watch her from the corner of my eye as she creates another impressive piece of work. To me, the images she painstakingly creates on canvas appear as if by magic. But I know her method is far from magical. There's an incredible amount of preparatory work that goes into each painting (which is always part of a far larger series of paintings) before she ever paints a stroke. From her carefully crafted "thoughts statement," a precursor to her final "artist's statement," to the dozens of reference photographs she takes of her subjects (her beautiful daughters often pose for her), to stretching and building her own canvases and preparing the surfaces, to mixing the oils and the many other things in-between (of which I have no knowledge), Shelley creates deeply-moving, provocative, insightful, and beautifully-wrought images. Her use of color is outstanding; her skill in painting the human figure is almost eery in its perceptiveness. I love the eyes of her subjects--so expressive, such windows to the often walled-off interiors within. Just beautiful.

My sister and I both love to create; I write, she paints. We both express ourselves in the ways we know best and use the methods with which we are most comfortable. But as I sit here at my computer, fumbling for words, I can't help but be amazed that the little girl who once smacked me right between the eyes with one of those thick, kindergarten-sized crayons while we were supposed to be napping, would someday master the use of those crayons (and charcoal and pencils and pens and film and watercolors and oils) in much more productive, beautiful and useful (not to mention less violent) ways.

I honestly don't know how she does it; I'm just glad she does. And it's funny how her work still hits me right between the eyes... only now it doesn't leave a black and blue mark and I don't have to tattle on her.

Until the next time...

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