Friday, August 5, 2011

Art, Passion, and Life - Art as Healing

I love passionate people (mostly). Some passions border on obsession or obsessiveness where you can't stop thinking about it and it's pretty much what you live for, dream about, and want to do with all your heart for all your life. Making art, children's picture books, and teaching/mentoring are pretty much it for me.

My obsession started as a child in a difficult working class neighborhood where art making was my refuge and my joy. I could literally draw out my pain or I could create fantasy worlds that I could escape into (self-portrait mermaids were a common theme as were lovely landscapes). Art making helped me survive many difficult things and heal from them.

My parents were war survivors and died young. After that I pretty much raised myself. If anyone mentioned parents or war, I would simply leave the room. I was scared that if I spoke about them I would start crying and never stop.

One day I did a painting using our family's iconic "family portrait" photo as reference. I was so scared I'd just cry and cry and cry. And I did. But then I stopped and in the process of painting that painting and allowing myself to feel the sadness, something profound shifted. I still have and love that painting (I'm the sad twin in the lower right).

For years, many of my paintings were about sadness or grief or about being confused, conflicted, or angry, until I'd drawn out so much of that stuff. When I lived in San Francisco, I had a year where I just allowed myself to paint darkness, mostly black ink on white paper with a big brush, but also quite a few color paintings about my family and the Holocaust. My best friend and I went to the beach and built a fire and burned all the art. People rushed up offering to buy pieces but I needed to burn them and watch all that sorrow go up in flames. It was fascinating how the canvas on the back of the paint burned first and then the paint turned into chalk and then it was just gone. It was incredibly beautiful.

When I came to the US, I was lucky enough to have a solo exhibition curated by one of my art heroes (and crushes) Enrique Chagoya . Enrique encouraged me to  show my most intense work and take elements out of the paintings and continue them onto the wall so it was even more intense. I got the most amazing responses to that show including an invitation to illustrate a bilingual children's book about change. This began my career as a children's book illustrator where I got to create empowering anti-racist kids books. Talk about healing.

Now my work is very often about light and color and joy. Even tho I still sometimes paint about difficult things or things that I'm questioning, I do it with a much lighter heart and palette. Am so grateful for the power of art as a force of transformation and good in the world.

When I was a grad student, my dissertation chair asked me "What is your agenda?" I said "to be a force for good in the world." I feel grateful that I get to do this through my own work and by teaching others skills to access their own art making or deepen it. It's always sweet to be in a place of gratitude. Now I'm off to obsessively paint!


Kylie Law said...

Thanks for writing such a moving post. I enjoyed reading it. It's such a skill to pass on lessons to others through your own careful recollection of what has affected you. Lovely writing.

Kylie (Fellow Flyer)

Mira Reisberg said...

Thank you Kylie, it's always such an act of courage putting anything out into the world and so meaningful to hear something back.