marlene mountain
painting series 20
'home away from home'


home away from home

I didn't realize as I began planning and sketching ideas for what would become the painting series 'home away from home' that it would need to get very complicated. As the content developed, however, I found myself adding idea after idea--barrier after barrier--until I had a rather large undertaking. Both physical and emotional. I really didn't want to paint what I thought I had to paint. Rather, I didn't want to paint out what I thought I had to paint out.

Since 1971 I have lived in an old and small frame house on the edge of a hundred and one wooded and hilly acres. It's somewhat near a blacktop road and for years I have dreamed of building a home in the valley. Small yet large enough to store my paintings and even hang a series (a studio would be great too). After a series is painted and shown locally once or twice the paintings are stacked upstairs in two small rooms and I rarely see them again. Of the some 400 paintings since 1979 there are no doubt many that I've forgotten.

Every time I would walk back to the valley I'd look at spots facing south and try to create an image of a house in my mind. For a couple of years I tried to picture an underground home and with my eyes dig a hole for it in a hillside. A cave to snuggle deeply into, light when I wanted it and that special room for my sisters, the paintings.

Even though I was never truly able to visualize a house I was haunted by an inner need to begin again, to have a warm and safe place, to have rooms--uncluttered rooms for the clutter I've accumulated--with more than paths through them. I might even become healthy-looking. Anything was possible. At some point, however, what had seemed a harmless and natural dream--and the only one I've ever truly had--began to cause me a great deal of frustration with my present 'stayin place.' A house--though in need of minor as well as structural repairs--that has sustained me during many a troubled time, a home that I love.

All along I knew that I wouldn't be able to build such a house--perhaps that's why I could never fully form the picture--but I wasn't prepared for the frustration, the dissatisfaction. The feelings would not go away. Finally I decided that I would need to paint the dream out; I needed to appreciate what I did have, did love. I needed to paint the restlessness out. To put myself back where I was--at home.

At other times since I began to paint again in 1979 I've been able to paint out or write out fear, sometimes pain, sometimes anger--at what is happening to nature, to women, to people. If I could name something, find a form for the emotion, make it tangible, visual, there could be a release. Even at times a healing.

I'd just give it a try. In fact I felt I had a good and rather inexpensive (for a change) beginning for such a series. Cut out and left over from the 1989 'womocreativa' series on five triangular wooden panels (4 feet across by 6 1/2 feet tapering down) were five 8 by 4 feet two-peaked 'mountain' shapes. For many years and several series this basic shape and its variations have represented my home, my womb, my place, mountain.

Gradually the thinking and sketching process began to take on the qualities of making rock soup. The panels were too floppy and would need a frame along the back edges of the shapes. Then of course how was I going to paint something out when there was hardly anything to paint on?

{page 1 of sketches}

A former idea--before the 'painting out the dream' idea--had included five circles cut from panels to represent the moon passing from the left of the first mountain shape through the peaks of the other four. Some of the moons would need pieces cut out to fit either side of a peak--a little complicated. That was how the idea came and went in August 1989. In 1990, completely bypassing the mountain/moon idea, a series of circles (four feet across) did come about--though not as moons per se--for the four paintings of 'chaoscoswommos.'

{page 2}

In February of 1991 the house/mountain shape returned briefly. Ten years earlier I had produced twenty-three small paintings for a series called 'home paintings' (October 1980 through August 1981). I was a little figure inside or outside of the house/mountain preparing for winter, painting, loving, enjoying spring, worrying--and trying to hang on to my place on a CETA income. The moon always present. In another series, 'in circles toward healing: visions, down times, affirmations, journeys' (July--October 1983), I was a small white figure trying to hang on to health and home.

So in 1991, feeling even more precarious than ever about my circumstances, the first idea was 'to hang on to home,' then 'or 'dream home' [to paint it in, to make it happen] or both or auto bio (w/collage) or art (decades).' At the time I was also finding old writings, drawings, photographs, etc., and beginning to gather such material for a haiku book--'from the mountain'--so the visual ideas dissolved once more.

{pages 3-13}

The mountain/house shape returned in May 1991 to haunt me. This time curtains and rods appeared in some sketches along with (my) other primary shapes: the triangle, labia, circle/moon. The very first window --'window 1'--I ever painted--January 1963--was an assemblage with curtains to open or close. That painting led to other windows and eventually to abstraction--with never a hint of symbolism--for several years until I quit painting in 1969. In December 1981 when the window theme strangely reappeared it was totally symbolic and with curtains again, --'windows'--'Window: One-In-Herself' and beside it 'window: one-not-in-herself,' not only symbolic but the latter window violated.

Various sketches in May 1991 finally led me to realize I would have to fill in the triangular spaces. Cotton canvas was eventually rejected which meant that I would need to get five more wooden triangles cut from 4 by 8 feet panels. Three of the triangles, at least, could be cut in two pieces so I would not have five more mountain shapes. (As it happened I would have two left over.) Also I would be able to paint sections separately before attaching them to the basic house/mountain shapes. In fact everything had to be painted separately because as it turned out my ceilings are only seven and a half feet high.

In some of the May sketches the direction was toward 'abstract' shapes yet others suggested a little figure within the two peaks--what is she doing? She appears to be climbing out of her home--the big shape--into her dream home. {page 4} Haiku from about ten years ago were written in the sketchbook: 'tonight i am mountain,' 'isolation i work out with the moon who i am,' 'what i hold onto in these times tsuki and yama' (Japanese moon and mountain). In other sketches there's a 'mountain' within a 'mountain'? A home within a home? Some are even inverted. Which was the old place and which was the new?

As the window idea developed a board with a latch across the middle of the triangle appeared. Now the new home--the dream--seems to be above the window board and the old home below--the figure still trying to climb. It seems I am looking through a 'window' of the big house/mountain at myself--to an event taking place, to a change of some kind. I was in need of words to help me understand what was happening.

{page 13}

Recent and new one-line haiku came to mind: 'my body my home the world falling apart,' 'what have i come to i've begun to want what i can't have,' 'hard to hold back dreams of a new nest,' 'so few places for honest nature,' 'best i can do perceived moments through crone eyes.' Here then was the verbal/written flow--from house/mountain to house/mountain. I was finally getting an overall vision but in doing so found an inner sadness to it. And the irony that I would have to paint the dream in so that I could paint the dream out.

{page 14-17}

I didn't sketch again until a couple of times in July and then only to formalize some of the ideas. I more or less knew that somehow I would work it out and have a series for the yearly exhibition at Hard to Find in Valle Crucis NC. In a sense I was glad the ideas had turned into something I could paint--could try to figure how to paint. Other times I've written or painted what I didn't want to do--the cross words, the stamps, the pissed off poems--but I had to . . . so, as the saying goes, I could get on with it. I had very mixed feelings: the relief to find a form for the content which meant the content must play itself out, the emotions dealt with.

{page 18-23}

Yet I guess I wasn't yet ready for all of that and dropped the ideas again--at least in my sketching--until I realized that time had gotten away and now in September I was still waiting for the triangular panels to be cut and the others backed. I finally got three of the big house/mountain shapes and painted them outside--painted them barn red, the color of my 'real' house--on the ninth of September. The weather was rather warm and I had pain in my feet and legs but I wanted to find out where all of this was taking me.

The next day I stenciled the first three haiku in three-inch white letters on the shapes--their tops where the kitchen cabinets meet the ceiling then angling out to almost a foot from the wall at the floor. (Quite an experience to maneuver house/mountains around the yard and in a small kitchen and living room.)

I was just winding down a month-long series of captions--about Haiku Rules, spoofing them as well as Art and Pretty Nature, etc.--to photographs of famous art and Dore's bible illustrations (256 'highcoup' captions at last count). This adventure not unlikely in part to keep me from beginning a painting series I really didn't want--in my heart--to paint. The exhibition opening only a few weeks away.

As I was putting gesso on the various panel shapes I was still struggling with the representations for the top and bottom window sections. I'd finally decided to use a 'naked' cotton doll with gold hair for the first three windows. (How to get her on the panels??)

A further self-imposed complication was to use as few colors as possible: iridescent silver, a small amount of iridescent gold to match the gold window latches and doll hair, iridescent, titanium and gesso whites, and a related acrylic barn-red. Knowing next to nothing about cloth I finally settled on tulle (tutu and veil material) and located a woman who would make it into curtains--two 8 1/2 feet long panels for each window. The curtain rods a problem and in the end had to be hammered flat. The rock soup had thickened.

I have always taken for granted that one could paint for a while and then step back to study the results. This project made that nearly impossible. All the parts were in various stages: sanded, gessoed, painted and collaged, some parts still not worked out in my head. I could not visualize how the inside triangles and divided triangles would look within the barn red/white haiku shapes. The three house/mountain shapes (slightly warped but OK at the last) were in the living room path on their sides and looking quite odd. A note to myself in the sketchbook: I hope this is my last 'head' painting series. (Of course it wasn't.)

As usual with my color-straight-from-the-tube hard-edged paintings I have to paint each area at least three times to bring out the color. Time was still draining away--I'd already received an invitation to my show--and I didn't always have that extra boost of energy necessary to pull everything together. And as yet the builder hadn't gotten all the panels finished.

Finally all the panels were painted. They were glued together (stacked and weighted with chairs, etc. on the kitchen floor for several days). The curtains were ready. Because the assemblages were too long to fit completely inside my '83 Toyota pickup and not knowing what the weather would be by the coming Saturday opening, I looked at the 'home aways' briefly (without the curtains), loaded them and the other series in and drove to Valle Crucis--about an hour's drive through the mountains--on the 14th of October. The opening morning on the 19th Jim Mac would attach the latches and rod parts--and he and Lowell would hang these strange things. As it turned out I wondered how they would look in a 'circle' that we could walk around. We stood them on the floor (fastened together on the insides) as a pentagon. The twenty-three ten-year-old 'home paintings' hung nearby.

I hardly remember the last-minute whirlwind experience, hardly remember the paintings. Because I have no room at home for the 'home away from home' paintings a viewer adopted one and the others were taken to hang in a small area in the Women's Studies offices at Appalachian State University. I haven't seen them since.

What took place? The first cloth figure is scrunched in the V of the triangle--the lower window area--beside her 'old' barn-red home. (Movable she can also look as if she is about to fall off the edge.) Above is a faint indication of a house/mountain and the moon (gessoed cotton cloth forming the shapes). The haiku on the big shape: 'my body my home the world falling apart.'

The second cloth figure has scaled the 'mountain' and is hanging onto the wooden crossboard trying to pull herself into the upper window where iridescent white shapes of nature (moon, trees, creek, stars) and 'home' are floating side-ways, upside down, out of place on iridescent silver. The haiku: 'what have i come to i've begun to want what i can't have.'

The third cloth figure has gotten into the upper window area and sits on the crossbar. This middle assemblage indeed is transitional. Beside her is an abstract labia almost filling the area. A female triangle--of cloth--'bloody' from giving birth is in the lower window. The haiku: 'hard to hold back dreams of a new nest.'

In the fourth and fifth assemblages the wooden crossbars with latches are gone, although the triangular panels are still recessed. The cloth figures are absent. In the brushed-on gesso of the fourth piece, however, a penciled and partly-painted female figure is holding what appears to be a paint brush. There are other penciled parts of a 'scape' and a house/mountain 'structure.' There is an overall messiness to it all. She is painting the 'new' house/mountain and a big moon behind it. The white haiku letters form: 'so few places for honest nature.' [This is all I can remember of paintings three and four.]

The fifth and final painting/assemblage is fully painted and relatively neat. Everything seems to be in place. Red trees, white trees, white pond and creek, white stars and moon on silver. Now there are two red house/mountain shapes. One is slightly smaller and has little house/mountain shapes within which appear to be paintings. Flowers are here and there and about the pond. The white figure reclines on the silver earth and is just another element of nature--as are the house/mountains. The white haiku: 'best i can do perceived moments through crone eyes.'

How did it all end or did it end? Has the dream been defined and painted out by painting it in? Has the fantasy been imprinted as a reminder of a far off reality? Are the odd colors a bluesprint or a blueprint?

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