artist

Day 205 – Restless

Seeing as Blink. is my first real artistic endeavour a studio space never really factored into the equation. Plus running the menagerie that is my home takes up another large portion of my time. So when I say I’m living with my work, I really am.

For the first few weeks it was fine, working on one canvas at a time. Then the other 24 came. And then I sketched each face onto each canvas using charcoal pencil for dark spots so that once paint was applied the sketch would peep through better. Then I hung them all around the room, the size of which meant that these black and white morgue images wallpapered my living space. This was when I realised how daunting my task was.

But because I find them beautiful and not morbid as others did I continued living this way for the past few months. When friends would visit I was met with shock and discomfort, and understandably so. I shifted from sadness to familiarity with these women long ago and I forget that I too experienced that very same guttural response. Last week I removed them from the walls, just for a change.

The only word I can use to describe it is restlessness. Constantly, I feel the need to adjust my patterns, move my paint stand, manoeuvre the room into a different configuration. I just can’t settle. Every so often I must try, to the best of my ability, defamiliarise myself with the work so that I may approach each piece with an alternative eye. As I’ve mentioned before, with Blink. I’m either in or out. I’m either intensely and solely engaged with the work or I put it to one side and welcome life back in again. Currently, my family and I are preparing for a landmark occasion and I simply know that I cannot give these women the attention and solemnity that they are owed while my mind is elsewhere. Of course this approach has it’s downsides, the work has slowed down immensely. I feel guilty, like I’m shirking my responsibilities and yet I’m sure that it’s the right decision in the long run.

 

Day 188 – January 30th, 1994

Unlike Jane Doe 1991, Jane Doe 1994 did not die under suspicious circumstances. Therefore, her case file is sparse yet leaves much to ponder. She was estimated to be between 60 and 75 years old, though judging by her photograph I would lean towards the latter.

Her face is striking and the contortion of her mouth is so that it appears as if she’s smiling, or even laughing. Just as striking is her black and gold patterned jumper. This was an interesting detail for me because hardly any of the morgue photos show the deceased’s clothing. Despite her senior age her skin is tight on her face and her cheeks are round yet prominent.

Jane Doe died in Philadelphia. Found inside an abandoned building, she was known to neighbours by sight only. They even conjectured that she may have been an alcoholic, or mentally ill, or both as they often saw her walking, bottle in hand, talking to herself.

She wore layers of clothing, presumably to escape the cold. She was found wearing 3 jumpers, a jacket, a hat, a scarf, a nightdress, trousers, stockings, two pairs of socks and steel toe cap boots. The boots surprised me, her photo is so ladylike, the friend or neighbour of my grandmother perhaps. How cold must she have been to wear all those clothes?

Questions swirl in an unsteady stream around my mind and I’m caught between trying to piece together the story of these women’s lives and recoiling from imagining for them a lie.

I suppose that’s where art comes in. I know that Jane Doe 1994 could be any of us and I know that people should recognise that but I don’t want to dishonour their lives by writing for them a story that never was. Truth is the central tenet of Blink. There are sketch artists out there who can make these women look like they may have in life, there are writers and directors who could re-imagine these women’s lives in far more convincing ways than I can. The best way I feel I can honour them is by giving them the time and the attention of a portrait. The images, many un-lifelike  are the only true life evidence we possess to represent them. I can only hope that these portraits do not isolate them further but it is my only response for what I see before me.

 

Illustration conceived while painting Jane Doe January 30th, 1994

Day 100 – Without a Voice

It does not feel like 100 days have passed but if I look at what’s been achieved in that time it begins to sink in.

We have raised €700 that has been spent on paint, canvases and a daylight lightbulb which allows me to work well into the wee hours, I have the bones of 8 paintings done while the other 17 canvases hang around my walls baring the pencil-sketched faces I now live with and our small but significant efforts have been recognised by people such as Carol Morely, director of Dreams of a Life.

Since beginning Blink. I’ve been asking myself night after night: Why women? There are just as many if not more John Does out there so why is it that I focused solely on the women. I’m female – that’s one feeble excuse. I’m a feminist – but yet this isn’t a feminist issue. And as I questioned myself tirelessly trying to invent an answer if one did not inherently exist I thought perhaps I should not voice my concern and hope no one else noticed either.

Then, as I spent a dismal night painting and watching a documentary which I can no longer remember the details of I had an epiphany. It was a historical film set around the protesting against the Vietnam War in the 1960’s and one of  the leading members of the movement had been asked how he got involved.

He replied: Well, you know, it’s like all things. I met a girl.

Suddenly, as if the haze of vanilla scented candles and distant sounds of cars scuttling through puddles ceased to exist, there it was – the reason why Blink. had to be about women. The faces that paper my walls as I write are the embodiment of the nameless woman but they are not the only ones.

On Time Magazine’s list of 100 most influential figures throughout history only 3 women grace the well prepared list. 2 were queens and therefore, had a better chance than most.  But how many women in history have stood behind men, in the shadows and held them strong as they etched their names into the history books. They are the ones who are remembered, written about and exalted. Meanwhile, we will never know the names of the women who bore them upright, women throughout time who may have had more to say than their male counterparts but were simply never given the opportunity to explore their own vision as cognitive, unique, important human beings. How many potentially brilliant minds have been lost between the lines of historical texts. For centuries, half the population were considered sub-standard. They simply weren’t worth the time. In a way, I like to think the women of Blink. both stand for themselves but also represent the countless generations of voiceless women.

We have come so far and yet it’s disheartening how much is left to do. As of 2014, political representation for women is still far less than perfect in the US, UK and indeed, Ireland.

The simple logistical fact is that as long as 50% of the entire population is underrepresented in the country’s decision making – the wrong decisions are going to be made. As long as women don’t think that their voice matters, they will never fight to be heard. This isn’t some ‘feminazi propaganda’ as many would have you believe, it’s simple psychology.

The Inter-Parliamentary Union website has the largest grid for outlining female distribution among the world’s governments. Again we are faced with the harsh reality that the countries we condemn for being seemingly misogynistic or anti-feminist could teach us something.

Rwanda are world leaders in female political representation holding 51% of the seats across the lower and upper house. In third is the much maligned Cuba with 48.9%. Who else puts the “progressive” US, UK and Ireland to shame. Here’s to mention but a few: South Africa, Mexico, Argentina, Uganda, Serbia, Guyana, Afghanistan, South Sudan, Singapore, China and Iraq. The UK rank 65th with 23% of seats held by women and the US 84th with 19%. In the meantime more countries pop up ahead of Ireland like Israel, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Ireland places 92nd with only 15.6% female representation.*

Hearing such statistics makes you want to bow your head and avert your eyes and ask how we ever fooled ourselves so much. The only female voices we hear are Nicky Minaj, Megan Fox and Kim Kardashian. Yes, feminism is about choice and if you choose to utilise your sexuality to achieve your ambitions who am I to judge? But this doesn’t mean we should not question and consider the motives behind these choices.

If we are so autonomous, so empowered why are so many of us still striving for the same goal of the sexual ideal? While young men are pressured to become economically successful women are just as influenced to strive for cosmetic success. If we say we are just as capable as men then why are we the backing dancers to a male government? Surely when a large percentage of us are making similar if not the same decisions we can’t call ourselves independent thinkers.

If I’m sounding judgmental that is certainly not my intention. I’m just genuinely confused because I succumb to the same pressures the vast majority of young women do. I’m still trying to find the perfect way to remove hair from their follicles, I have been of the mind that if you can’t wear a bikini there’s not much point going to the beach, I still search for the ideal foundation that is heavy duty but doesn’t sit in the natural pores of my face and I religiously subject my hair to chemicals whose names I could not dream of pronouncing.

Again, I cannot express enough how this is not the common man’s fault, they are as conditioned as we are.

But I’m just a young woman, balancing precariously somewhere between apathy and fury all the while trying to convince myself I’m not insane for feeling this way. You just have to ask when is this going to end? The Women’s Movement never declared themselves finished and yet we all presume Feminism is a thing that happened not something that is still happening and perhaps more than ever needs to revitalised.

It has been living on the respirator for far too long.

When Will it be Enough

*Source: Inter-Parliamentary Union 

Day 42 – Connections Part 2

The infrequency of my posts over the last few weeks has been ridiculous, but all in all there was little to report and I’d rather write nothing than to become monotonous and tiresome. There is less than three weeks left on the Fundit campaign and we still have the majority to raise yet if every reader gave 5 euro right now we could finish it today. Don’t wait because soon it will be over and those who have already contributed would have done so for nothing http://fundit.ie/project/blink .

As promised, today (8 days late I know) I am discussing the Blink. inspired painting I mentioned last time. It’s not what you’re used to from me, I know, I shelved precision and detail for texture and freedom. It took less then a day and honestly it was simply a way for me to break through the artist’s block I had been experiencing. There was no process, no forethought, no sketches. It was simply paint to canvas to deal with the relationships of some of these women. Mothers, daughters and brides. Gleaned from case files, many had been pregnant or given birth, one still wore a wedding ring and many had clearly been victims to the sex trade. So I will let the painting speak for itself and I would love to hear any thoughts you may have as there’s nothing worse than having unsupported thoughts and no dialogue when it comes to this kind of subject matter.

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Day 34 – Connections

I have to recognise the recent infrequency in posting but the details are not too interesting and more importantly quite boring.There is little less than a month left on Fundit http://fundit.ie/project/blink and still 85% to raise so don’t wait, it takes less than 2 minutes. I’m currently working on a Blink. inspired painting that I hope to share in the next 24 hours but today  I feel the need to approach one of the central themes of the project – Connections.

I often wonder how many people the average person speaks to in their entire life. There’s no way of knowing and yet it must be somewhere in the many thousands. Your mother, your partner, the woman behind the deli, the bouncer on the door, your children, the people interviewing you for a job, your doctors in the final days. It’s endless. And how many people do these people talk to?

Isn’t it possible that every last one of us is in some distant way connected to any and all of the Jane Does across the world? Less possible, more probable. How many names do we learn in a lifetime? This number is significantly less. And further, How many names do we remember on our deathbed?

Every one of these women was somebody’s daughter, sister, aunt, friend, waitress, maid, patient, boss, partner. Some were even wives and mothers. Somewhere along the way these seemingly significant connections were severed or at least ignored.

So how do we decide which connections  are worth strengthening? Every single relationship starts as a thread in a web, a word, an introduction, but when do we cast these threads in silver, gold, iron and steel? We choose to do this. We choose who enriches our life moments. Blood is liquid and genes are microscopic but those people we decide to cherish beyond all else upon a chance encounter in one moment – this is the real miracle of life. No religion, no destiny, no fate just the miracle of coincidence.

These women once had these connections and maybe some were made of heavier stuff than thread but they still somehow disintegrated. Nothing is unbreakable and death is the greatest hammer. We may never be able to forge the truly permanent connection but it is our choice of who we decide to spend the strengthening moments with that makes all the difference.

I’d like to dedicate this post to my dearest friend whose infinite ability to be my complete opposite has furnished me with some of my happiest memories and who I hope to spend countless life moments with to strengthen our relationship even more.

Day 28 – Blanche Taylor Moore

As promised, this is my portrait of Blanche Taylor Moore. Here’s a step by step process of how it came to be. First I started with sketching directly onto the canvas:

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Then I painted a light grey wash over the whole canvas and just began to outline the darker points:

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Now, more detail is added and something is slowly beginning to emerge:

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From here I take the painting in sections  (eyes, mouth, hair, etc.) so that I can see the true portrait developing. First I start with the eyes:

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Next, I moved onto the general skin tone, mouth  and neck:

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Now it’s time for hair, which I love despite being extremely tedious:

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And there you have it, obviously this is a very sparse walk through but it’s nice to track a painting from blank canvas to complete work. Due to lighting and camera issues I hope to have a good quality photo of the complete painting tomorrow.

Remember to like, comment and share as we are now at the end of our fourth week and still have a long way to go on Fundit.

Day 17 – Growth

In fact, I really didn’t plan on posting today but sometimes when an idea takes you it should be noted. Huge progress was made on the first portrait and as it crept closer to midnight, a daily deadline I imposed on myself to avoid sleepless nights and unproductive mornings, a thought came to me that I hadn’t quite imagined possible before.

This woman is beautiful. Not in the ‘You can tell she was pretty when she was alive’ kind of beautiful but truly, in this moment, captivating. And then I realised that I had felt this way about many of the 25. Trust me, many, if not most, of the faces would never ‘grace’ the pages of Vogue or Elle but regardless they stirred something more palpable and more visceral in me than I have ever really felt.

Having only ever lost a few people I cannot say that I have spent longer then perhaps two minutes looking at the face of death. Well, look how that has changed. You always here about artists trying to find the beauty in death and trying to capture how death could possibly be conveyed as beautiful. This is absurd. There is no beauty in the one thing we all have in common, there is no beauty in a terrifying totality that ends stories and cracks the earth beneath those left behind. I simply won’t accept this.

However, when I speak about the beauty of these deathly faces I am acknowledging the beauty of life. Because unlike the airbrushed faces we see on our screens and in our magazines these women in death somehow express more life. Confusing, I know but bear with me. When I began this project I contended that they’re stories were locked in others minds when, in reality, they’re locked in these faces.

In each freckle, wrinkle, bag, tattoo, scar, clipped nail lies the key to a memory, the life that has been lost. To wear our lives, to have our life written on our body, if that’s not beauty I don’t know what is. So when I said that the Mariska Hargitay portrait altered my perception of beauty it was no lie, but this, one portrait of 25, has irrevocably transformed it. Then why obsess day in and day out about youth when age, when storytelling, when depth is where beauty resides.

I know that all of you will just have to take my word for it but hopefully, some day in the near future you will see what I see.

©S.E Honan

Day 13/14/15 – Surrender

Of course painting is the mission here so that’s what I’ve been concentrating on over the last few days. And now, considering the lack of visual stimulation thus far here I’ve decided to take a small intermission from Blink. to share with you all the painting that really helped me come to this point.

It’s strange how television that isn’t even on the critical level of, let’s say, Breaking Bad or The Wire can inspire something powerful from a place of crippling fragility and insecurity. Around December I began binge watching Law & Order: SVU as I became bed bound for around six weeks and Mariska Hargitay as Det. Olivia Benson reignited a resilience and strength I was all but sure no longer existed in me. This character is perhaps one of the only truly independent, autonomous females in television. She is neither the ball-busting man hater nor the wilting violet waiting to be rescued. She is a fine example of what it is to be a true woman and unfortunately, this breed is rare on our screens.

In reality, Hargitay is no less inspiring. She created the Joyful Heart Foundation, an organisation which advocates for victims of domestic and sexual abuse along with campaigning to reduce, if not end, this kind of violence and works with End The Backlog which aims to eradicate the terrifying number of untested rape kits across the US.

Her earth-splitting beauty was secondary to me, though impossible to ignore. Therefore when I decided I had to paint a portrait of her, instead of choosing a glamourous shot of her looking the conventional idea of beautiful I decided to take a still from the opening episode of SVU Season 15. Here, she has been kidnapped and tortured for four days by a serial rapist referred to as “The Beast.” In the still I chose she has just broken free of her restraints and incapacitated her assailant.

This, for me, was Hargitay at her most beautiful. She was raw, burnt, beaten and fatigued but her face, her eyes, her mouth emanated such intense yet subdued power, a power that stemmed from the most vulnerable of situations that in a way I was a little awe-struck.

It’s the longest I’ve ever spent on a painting, just a little over four weeks of 10 hour days (I have no idea where that time went) but I came out of it with a new perspective on art, beauty and myself. It’s an extremely personal piece that will forever hold a part of my life and as dramatic as it sounds, I’m not sure exactly where I’d be without it.

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