Theme & Variations

The longer I paint, the more I become interested in how a work changes over time throughout the process. Sometimes things get better as one goes along, sometimes they tank and sometimes each stage is just a different choice, whole and complete in its own way. An example is the latest piece, “The River of Forgetfulness.”

The work is in response to a call for entries by the Cultural Arts Center for a show centered on the opioid epidemic in Ohio. I was fairly certain there would be lots of butterflies and other transformational imagery submitted, but not so much on the subject of attraction. What is it about opioids which initially draws and captures so many people?

Source Material: Ancient Greek Goddess Coloring Page

Per usual, I began by poking around the internet looking for inspiration. As I often do, I found a suitable illustration in a printable coloring page designed for children. These usually are composed of simple lines and are a great starting point. The above page depicts the goddess Lethe, the presiding deity over one of the rivers of Ancient Greek Hell. One drink from her bowl and the soul forgot all about its former life, presumably sinking into oblivion thereafter. I retained the idea of a figure holding up a bowl, but the rest is my own invention.

In Process: “River of Forgetfulness” by Lynda McClanahan

You can see other echos of the initial graphic in the folds of the blouse and the substitution of hair for a veil.

The above photo was taken at a point in the process in which I could have stopped and still had a perfectly good painting. It’s a simpler version and graphically stronger. It even veers into magazine cover territory with plenty of room left on the bottom for text. I continued adding details only because I’m competing for entrance into a specific show.

“River of Forgetfulness” by Lynda McClanahan

To this end, many details were added. A poppy flower crown tops the figure’s head and poppy seeds sprout from her pocket. Buckeye earrings refer to Ohio and the various tattoos suggest power, danger and some of the reported slang for heroin (Auntie). A pocket watch set to midnight communicates that “time is running out.” I’ve ended up with a nice painting and a decent entry for the show, but I wonder if I’ve veered uncomfortably close to a polemic. Too late now.

Each version of a work has something to recommend it. Only the artist remembers and cherishes each one.


2019: Balancing the Bitter and the Sweet

2018 ended with the completion of “Tana of Waikiki” (or “Devi” or “Witch” or however I end up naming the thing) and three little paintings of harpies. I’m letting “Tana” rest, either as a test of resolution or just plain old possessiveness, who can tell? In contrast, the harpies are about as done as I can make them.

“Rainbow Harpy” by Lynda McClanahan

These are small works, 4 1/2″ x 5 1/2″, an unusual size required by three frames found in a thrift store. Friend and master carpenter Dave Barnes generously cut the surfaces from leftover birch plywood in his garage.

“Blue Harpy” by Lynda McClanahan

The subject came as a surprise, to myself and others too, I suspect. In a world in which being pretty is the prime directive, it feels profoundly risky to display female rage for public view. Frankly, I wish I’d given myself more cover by not including the white braids on this one but there must have been a psychic imperative to do so. For women, being brave can mean not much more than affirming that you’re a full human being.

“Green Harpy” by Lynda McClanahan

2018 was a year of doing the best work of my life. It also marked a change in the way I curate the ideas which continually bubble up to the surface. Perhaps watching my mother-in-law progress slowly toward death has ignited a more visceral reaction to the prospect of my own demise. In any event, the impulse to dive deeply into the bitter as well as the sweet has become more and more insistent.

This year’s motto: I am brave, industrious and clear-eyed.

I contemplate life as it is.