Freeze, and Continue

Untitled (Solitude I – Study after Luc Tuymans), 2011 – acrylic on wood, 18*24cm
Would You Like to Hear My Voice (Solitude II), 2020 – acrylic on wood, 18*24cm

Lately, I came back to painting although I hadn’t done so in the last year. Why now? Maybe because of a series of questions I was asked to think about. The most difficult ones for me were: Which dominating emotion is an engine in your creative work? and Which emotions do you normally work from? Though it seems easy for a creator whose every-day activity is to create, to say what prompts and guides the act of creating, I realised later that it ended up being much trickier than I expected.

My initial thoughts and leads to answer, though I felt quite confident, were mainly referring to the themes defining my works, such as the power relations between objects and subjects, the questions around the medium I use, the systematic displacement or deconstruction of the latter, etc. All good topics, but clearly not responding to the questions of emotions.

To my surprise — aren’t all artists attuned to their emotions? — not only did I lack precise answers, but I also began doubting myself on my ability to define what an emotion was. Rather alarming… I therefore discovered (or re-discovered) that we have six basic emotions: fear, anger, disgust, sadness, joy or happiness and interest. My detoured reply was clearly pointing at the fact that I had no real understanding or awareness of my feelings in the context of creating, as if I had forgotten to tick my own ‘box’, or stop at my own station. This information alone though, was rather interesting.

As artists, isn’t it obvious that we deal with feelings, that we are sensitive people who observe the world and react to it through our personal ways of expressing ourselves? Absolutely. So, why is it so hard for me to recognise what pushes me to express myself? Surely creating is a necessity, I can see it from the many times I tried to move away from it (a more normative life can be quite appealing), I inevitably came back to it. But it doesn’t say why deeply, I cannot live without doing it.

Actually the beginning of a lead occurred that same week. My mind was busy with self-questioning and this emotional issue, I was oscillating between feeling strong about doing what I do and having no clue how to explain it to myself. It’s in this spirit of mind that I went to my singing class. I explained to my teacher that I wanted to tackle this worry of being disconnected to my emotions which, for sure, must have been felt during singing classes too. We worked on the low sounds, since I wanted to be more grounded. And something happened, I opened up, we could finally hear my voice. After this experience I went straight to the studio, feeling pumped with positive energies and having the impression of touching what I could call ‘change’.

Whether I was too pleased about this (and should have just gotten to the beach and enjoy), or simply because I had no idea how to transform this ‘change’ into my art practice, I quickly found myself drowning into paralysis. In less than no time, I fell from a mountain with a view into a scary void. As if I had switched off the lights on my life, the things I love were suddenly on pause: the music stopped, my Corona resolution to see sunsets as often as I could was unthinkable, the channel for any enjoyable thought broke. This moment made me realise how lonely I can find myself at times, and how enraged I am for not being able to fill the emptiness when it arrives. What happened to my lovely day? Nothing, just nothing. Emotions are cruel. I could have shaken the whole studio, physically I wanted to destroy something. But I didn’t, I just froze.

And then I saw the painting gouaches. And so I thought, what do I have to lose now, that I haven’t lost already in the last hour? Still frustrated and mad at myself, I energetically cut a plastic bottle with a knife to create a pot for the paint brushes. Soon enough, I realise that painting on a little wooden board makes me feel much better than freezing in the abyss. For inspiration I looked at the portrait ‘Der Diagnotische Blick III’ by my favorite painter, Luc Tuymans. It then struck me that I took the exact same painting as a model in 2011 as I was struggling in my life and when, in some way, painting saved me. I love Tuymans’s composition, and even though its subject is severe (the painter’s series is based on photographs in a physician’s diagnostic guide), I find it aesthetically very calm and soothing. It reminds me of my relationship with my brother and how precious it is to share even the smallest things, with someone. I guess this painting represents a type of nostalgia. So I keep on painting it, and the more I paint it, the further I get from the model and the more personal it becomes.

This episode is one of the many possible reasons I do, and keep on doing. Until now, I hadn’t really examined the how and why. Obviously there is no magic recipe or ideal setting for the creating process to occur. Fortunately for me, it happens also when I am interested, happy and joyful.

Love, Ethel


++ go to The Same Portrait All Over Again for more acrylic paintings

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