One of my all time favourite artists is Emily Karaka.
I was 17 when I first saw one of her works hanging up at an art gallery. And there were world famous artists whose works were also been exhibited, but I can’t remember any of them. I started around with the rest of my class, and then needed to go back. And I didn’t finish looking around the gallery.
I was drawn to her wildness, and rawness, and truth-telling that was pouring off the canvas. It was two panels of canvas, hanging at the top with a wooden lintel. I still remember the awe when I first saw it.
The red circles telling a truth of their own. I actually have tears thinking back to that moment. And that young 17 year old who questioned for the first time whether she wanted to go to law school or had gotten herself backed into a corner of letting that decision to go to lawschool at 6 define who she was, or who she thought she was. Hanging on to that decision for dear life, because without that she had no clue anymore about who she was.
And I think back to that 17 year old, who had no idea about any of that. Who thought she had deserved everything that had happened to her, and knew nothing.
And I remember her goosebumps when she first saw that piece of art hanging up. The colours and energy pouring over her. She wasn’t the abuse, or anything else, at that moment she was connected at a level she couldn’t understand to a work hanging in a gallery with dutch masters, who people were very excited about seeing.
That 17 year old me tried to leave to look at other works but the yellows and greens and pinks and reds kept drawing her back. In a way she couldn’t comprehend. She spent the trip to the gallery pretty much rooted in front of one painting watching a woman give birth.
And on my canvas this morning, as I am painting. And trying to get a piece to work, I realise the woman wants to be pregnant.
And I think back to that time when I saw that woman, hanging on raw canvas. and the colours and brush strokes. And not knowing the artist’s story for the piece, but knowing what I saw in that moment. She was not a realistic portrayal, very styalised and tribal and primal and raw, but more true than anything I had ever seen.
And I feel tears even now bubbling just below the surface, when I think of it.
And I feel I am on the edge of a break through, a transformation. A precipice of change. And while the deeply personal seems to be getting an airing here lately, for today this is where it felt right to share.
Where I am sitting around chaos with four art journals open and paint drying and wood panels on the go.
Thinking of that 17 year old and where she had to go, to get to where I am now, and grateful I saw that piece by Emily. Grateful I studied it into memory so that the 34 year old me can appreciate it with the benefit of some life experience. I wonder how much the reality is different to the picture in my head. And I wonder what it would mean to me to look upon the work now. A me who is doing the work, has done the work to know who she is. And more importantly who she is not.