Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Brief History of a Silk Painter

People ask me all the time why I paint on silk and there are many varied reasons so there is no short answer to that question. I have struggled with a chronic illness ever since I began painting on silk in the late 1990’s, over a decade ago now, so I often reflect on how silk painting has helped me on my journey towards healing. For me there is a strong symbolism in the weave of the silk threads that parallels the web of our lives, which are woven together with health and sickness joys and deep sadness, all intertwined to make up this lustrous and beautiful surface. The high parts of the silk shimmer brilliantly with reflected light but it wouldn’t be as beautiful if it weren’t for the rich dark areas provided by the deep shadowy areas, the lows that in contrast make the higher points shimmer so brightly in the light. The silk threads themselves are so thin, yet so strong, just as we tend to be at what seems to be the weakest moments of our lives. Look at people whose bodies are ravaged by terminal illness, they often seem stronger, more centered and well then they have ever been. Like the strength I witness in the wisps of silken fiber I often pull from the edges of my paintings that float down to the studio floor where they land safely and unbroken.

My paintings are about healing even though that may not always be visible to others. They are created without a lot of planning often in bright-uncomplicated colors. I often mix the dyes from primary colors until I get a color that feels right, and then I touch my brush to the silk and can’t help smiling as the dye flows, moves and dances across the silk. It thrills me as it wanders and then it arrives at the resist. The resist is what keeps the dye from flowing where it does not belong, as long as I follow its rules, when I don’t it breaks down and leaks, forever changing my painting. This is not necessarily a negative thing although I tend to view it that way at first. Just like in our daily lives when something “breaks our rules”. We flow along on the path of right-mindedness and BAM, one day our “resist line” breaks and we are left without boundaries to bleed and flow with nothing there to catch us. Eventually we land safe in a new place at a new border, and upon looking around realize we have arrived where we were always meant to be. We find ourselves cradled in the healing weave of the fabric that is our lives within the ebb and flow of constant creation.

I feel a deep affinity for the work of Kahlo, Matisse, and Van Gogh, the latter whom suffered greatly for his effort to break away from the traditions and historic use of the mediums he was using. His usage was “All Wrong” according to the opinions that mattered at the time. His struggle was immense, but his passion was so deep and so strong, and his vision of healing and lifting up every being that was suffering was so great that it consumed him in fits of manic madness. He failed at being a minister because he loved too much and was no good at the politics; he gave every last thread of himself to his congregation. Until ill, possession less and near death he was labeled mad and dismissed from the Church.

When he painted he disregarded the “Old School” rules. Not that he necessarily wanted to, he struggled all of his life trying to paint and draw as “they” wanted him to but his inner fire burned to bright to follow the rules and when it erupted onto the canvas it was far to brilliant and blinded the eyes of his contemporaries to the beauty in his paintings. Had Vincent been able to follow the rules of his artistic predecessors perhaps he would have been able to sell his paintings during his life time. However I suspect if that were so, many of us would have never experienced the raw healing energy present in his work. His life was woven in such a way that although he sold drawings he only sold one of the nearly 800 paintings he made while he was alive. But we know from his letters to his brother Theo that he knew in his deepest self, at least at one point that what he was doing was right, despite how terribly his contemporaries ridiculed him. He died the worst sort of death I can imagine. He died of madness. His silken tapestry began to unravel until at the very end he chose to loosen the knot and let that single thread, which was his life, float away from the weight that for so long had been bearing down on him.

When my Father died I was nine years old, the story of Vincent’s life and death helped explain to me the madness that had unwoven my Father’s life. I began to understand why my Father finally let go of that thread that bound him to life and to me. Vincent’s art and story helped me to hold fast to my own bare threads when, because of illness, I felt my knots slipping. I have felt his passion and his madness, perhaps inherited from the parts of my Father woven so deeply into me. So in my 30’s I started to paint, first on paper and then a few years later on silk. It never dawned on me that it could be done wrong or that there were “rules”. I was totally free to paint as I saw things with my heart, no right or wrong, I just painted it all, the pain the joy, the good the bad. I picked up the woven threads of silk, dyed them with vibrant colors, set the dye with tears and smiles and created art. In my body of work a sensitive viewer may see my light and dark, my highs and lows and perhaps, if one looks very closely, the tiny wisp of silken thread that connects us all.


  1. THis was beautiful Linda. Your words have left me speechless, but did want to say one thing...

    I am sure you heard of the old 70s song called "Starry, Starry Night" about van Gogh? There was a remake gosh, maybe 8 years ago by a singer named Josh Groban. You might know him too? Anyway, his version really speaks to me about what Vincent went through and all that he suffered for his art. His voice lends itself to the song so beautifully. That is truly one of my all-time favorite songs and Josh is one of my favorite singers. By the way, this is Linda, I just couldn't figure out this early in the am how to set up a profile. Sad, I know but the caffeine is still working in...

  2. Wow thank you for your comment, I was a little hesitant about posting this. Is this from Linda B.?
    I do know of the version that Josh sings, makes me cry every time!