Freedom to Break Rules
Painting in abstract means I can let go of perfectionism as I'm not trying to paint something realistically. I choose colours to suit my mood (I have extreme moods with bipolar disorder) and it's not essential to use a paintbrush. Sometimes I paint with a knife or other objects other than a paintbrush. I don't usually have a finished picture in mind. My aim is not a pretty picture but to get out emotions, which for me get 'stuck.
I usually listen to music when I paint, so don't think too much but rather go on instincts. I tend to listen to a song over and over until all the emotion is out then move onto a new song. Whatever song is in my head at the time. Music accesses emotion for me and helps override my thinking (my thinking keeps me from feeling - a form of avoidance). Sometimes instead of paints, I've scribbled with pastels or felt-tip pens. Usually layers upon layers.
Here is an example of a painting step-by-step to release some of my stuck grief (which made me feel depressed and I kept having images flashing in my head of myself dying).
The Process of Painting Emotion
I initially painted streaks of yellow, red and green, not knowing at the time what it meant. Then I left it on the easel where I saw it daily. Then I felt that the red and green symbolised ruby and emerald of symbolic jewellery and a broken heart pendant to do with a failed romance and breakup. The yellow was my child who lives overseas (my sunshine) and the green and yellow was also Australia, a country I left in great pain to come back to New Zealand after having another breakdown and being diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
I was feeling weighed down and distressed so I decided to continue painting to get out the stuck emotion which was surfacing but having difficulty being expressed. Painting can express what I can't find words for. I kept having images of myself being hit by a truck and dying, which was rather distressing.
I felt the painting was going to be mainly about the pain of divorce and the pain of separation from a child. The song 'It Must Have Been Love' by Roxette was on my mind so I played it over and over. I was sobbing while I painted a huge dark chasm between the red (me) and the green (ex & Australia). It didn't matter it didn't look realistic. It was symbolic. It was dark. It was ugly. Just like the separation and divorce. Love that was over and the pain that remained.
I painted dark points as it felt like I was being stabbed. Then I picked up a knife and put red paint onto it and dragged it across the points, bleeding. That's how I felt. I was still sobbing listening to the song as I painted. I used the tip of the knife to scratch green paint onto the other side, representing the pain I've been through.
I painted a blue-silver lightning bolt through the chasm. It has symbolism for me including childhood trauma. Painting in abstract means I can connect several themes - this painting is not just about the pain of divorce and separation from my child across the ditch. It's also about other traumatic themes. I felt calmer - I had sobbed out the emotion that had been locked inside.
I changed songs a few times and settled on the theme song to Forrest Gump. I thinned the dark grey with medium and dulled out the background representing the pain from the past fading. This painting is darker and duller than my other recent paintings.
I painted gold leaf shapes on the lightning bolt which was now also a branch. A gold seam through the lightning bolt. The leaves represented new life, love and hope for the future. Golden wisdom which is what my name means - I changed my name to Xanthe Wyse in mania. I felt calmer and a huge burden had been released with this very simple yet symbolic painting.
I feel a variety of emotions when I paint - not usually feeling extreme pain. Usually, I feel like I'm in a trance - like a meditation in action which is calming to my brain which can race with bipolar disorder. Sometimes I feel 'high' and euphoric even when painful themes flash through my mind letting me know what I'm actually painting.
I understand what all my paintings mean, but sometimes more meanings become clearer afterwards. There are dozens of links in each painting. I use art as therapy as well as see a therapist and take medication.
The images of being hit by a truck eased but came up again the following day. I went for a walk by the lake, listening to music and quietly crying behind my sunglasses. The images of dying stopped and something had shifted.
Doing this painting was the first time I had really cried about the end of my marriage - let out the grief. I'd grieved losing my son but not about losing someone I once loved. My heart has been learning to trust again.
Xanthe has suffered from mental illness for over 25 years and has been diagnosed with bipolar 1 disorder, PTSD and social anxiety disorder.