I stared at the brushstrokes. Rich hues of brick red, burnt umber and muddy orange flowed next to each other on the canvas. I took a step back from the painting to take it all in at once. Something I created. Hours spent breathing in toxic fumes of oil paint supplies — odorless mineral spirits, linseed oil, Liquin. Days spent battling the painting, propped on an easel in front of me. I would look at it. Assess it. Ask it what it needed; what was missing.
For nearly three years “Entanglement” traveled with me wherever I went. From the college studio where I finished painting it in 2012, to my childhood home when I ran out of money for an apartment in the city, and then back to Minneapolis when I finally committed to renting an artist’s studio.
I can’t count the number of times I’ve stood in front of this painting just to stare. I love the colors — the ugly orange-greens and muddy tans that help the brighter colors in the piece pop. The play between thick swatches of color and skinny lines that snake throughout.
Exactly a year ago I sold a different painting — “Sparks in the Soil” — my favorite. A huge vertical number that stood nearly six feet tall with varying shades of phthalo, mint and grass green. It was the painting I referred to when I felt lost, or when I needed to figure out the next steps to take on the works I currently had in progress. After I sold that piece, “Entanglement” took its place. It served as a point of reference when I felt lost, sparked new ideas for color palettes and brushstrokes, and helped me find context around my work — and myself.
But yesterday I got the call. “Entanglement” found a new home. Immediate elation and disbelief washed over me. The couple that decided to purchase the piece came to visit me at the studio twice. I knew that meant they were invested in the work. But after we settled on a price and I hung up the phone, my initial joy was gently clouded by the bittersweet thought that I won’t get to stand in front of “Entanglement” anymore, looking at how the colors bleed and weave together. Not to mention the worry that maybe, just maybe they won’t take good care of the painting I’ve protected and loved for so long.
Even as a kid, sharing wasn’t my strong suit. Call me particular. Particular and picky. Especially when it came to how people used or treated my stuff — toys, games, books, clothes. I always wanted things to be a certain way. I meticulously rounded up every piece of my board games or pet shop play sets after getting them out. I never doggy-eared corners or ripped pages in my books. Even though I’m older (and slightly better at sharing now), I still treat my paintings like the precious sky fairy dancers toys or beloved books of my childhood. Holding close. Feeling protective. Slow to share.
After “the call” I sat on my futon in the studio, emotions swirling, still trying to process what happened. Minutes earlier I had excitedly ran across the hallway to tell my painter friends the good news. A few thousand dollar sale is always something to celebrate, especially when you’re short on cash. But luckily as new feelings of worry began to bubble up, another artist friend walked into the studio. I shared my good news, but also my sadness at losing a painting that guided me for the last year.
He told me that as artists, we have to learn a tough skill — to let go and say goodbye. I turned up my nose at the thought. That sounded overly negative and sad, neither of which I was in the mood for at the moment. But he clarified. Don’t think about the sale of a painting as a personal loss, but a chance to share your passion with others. To share an object you love with someone else. I’ve always thought one of the greatest honors is when someone decides they want to live with a piece of your work — of yourself — in their home; that they want to look at your painting each day as they go about their lives. As I get ready to pack up “Entanglement” and drive it to its new home, I’ll keep that thought close. And try to be better at sharing.