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investigating “mother” at the expressive arts studio

July 9, 2009

continents_eXaI spent the evening Wednesday at the New York Expressive Arts (NYEA) studio. The second Wednesday of every month is “Expressive – Action — Improv Painting,” a 2- or 3-hour expressive painting (and writing) experience in Albany.

Our process is to avoid having a plan, to paint from our bodies, to be surprised with each stroke, to be open to what emerges and go in the direction it wants to go. We don’t worry about painting pretty things or achieving color balance or graceful composition. We don’t worry about being original. We don’t worry about making sense. Tonight, the suggested theme was “mother,” and immediately an image popped into my head: two large breasts and a distended abdomen with seven cavities — four empty, three full. A symbol of part of my personal journey becoming a mother. It was a shock and a surprise to be given the image. When I hear “mother,” I never think of myself. I’m somewhat in denial about being responsible for children. Though I go through the motions, I fail to integrate it into my identity.

When I hear “mother,” I always think of my own mother and all the sadness and anger related to it. It’s certainly been a year where there hasn’t been room for a lot else. But tonight, the image in my head is a hieroglyphic of my history as a mother, which is also not free from trauma.

I didn’t want to paint it.

First of all, it’s a cliché. Second of all, I rarely explore it. It’s quite horrific to me. But of all the freedom our expressive arts process offers us, one thing it’s clear about is that if there’s an image that repulses you, an image that frightens you, an image from which you want to hide, then that’s the image you should go to.

So tonight, I went to it. The painting is large — a 3-foot torso, breasts with a diameter a foot or larger. Its subject is distorted. Its symbols precise. I named it “Continents,” based on the number seven. I’ve posted the free-write I completed about it over at “i am maureen” where you’ll need your password. The writing is where I’ll really decide whether I go to this image or not. The free-write done at the session doesn’t make it there. Not entirely. But it’s a start. An entrance.

  1. July 9, 2009 2:57 am

    Wow. I see the terror. I feel the power. Amazing.

  2. July 9, 2009 8:25 am

    I knew what it was before I read the accompanying text. Powerful. At 3 feet it must stun.

  3. July 9, 2009 10:31 am

    if there’s an image that repulses you, an image that frightens you, an image from which you want to hide, then that’s the image you should go to
    I’m going to try to keep that in mind from now on.

    Powerful painting.

  4. July 9, 2009 10:51 pm


  5. Michelle permalink
    July 15, 2009 3:22 pm

    Brobdingnagian courage and talent.

  6. July 16, 2009 10:55 pm

    How enlightening to hear your process as well as see the painting. The quote that Dave pulled out made an impact on me too, but the painting is the main event. I can feel the movement and energy. Next stop will be the free-write.

    The painting sessions sound amazing. It must be exhausting and exhilarating at the same time.

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