American Desi Explosion

I just finished another painting for An-Noor.  It is mixed media on canvas, with gold and silver leaf, acrylic paint, glitter, and rhinestones.  20″ x 60.”

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This painting is of my friend Sheeza and her daughter Sarah.  Sheeza was like an older sister to me growing up.  She is a natural leader, who loves to be challenged, and her daughter Sarah (4 at the time) wanted to be a fairy when she grew up so she could “do magic for all of her friends.”   I photographed them over a year ago, and I wanted their painting to emphasize Sheeza’s role as a mother, and a leader…to capture that magical quality of Sarah’s youth… and the connection between the two of them.  They were amazing during the photoshoot.

I styled this painting like “Inner Sun.”  After having worked with this layering of geometric and organic shapes once before, I felt like I was able to manipulate the design, colors, and materials to a much greater degree.  The most “energetic” part of the design is at the point of connection between Sheeza and Sarah.  Where their gaze meets.  This design is clearly born out of their relationship, expanding into a bright, bedazzled, American desi explosion over their heads.  And of course there is a “halo” of sorts that circles them.

I have been really submerging myself in the South Asian aesthetic, which is obvious in this painting.  My aim was to really push the boldness and the femininity.  I wanted the design to go”Pow!”  Since Maesta, I have been really feeling this pull towards adornment – beading, sequins, rhinestones, mica, pearls.  I want to harness these ultra-feminine materials in work that emphasizes feminine strength.  My heart tells me “more is more” and to “overdo” it.  But then when the painting is complete it doesn’t feel like too much, it even feels restrained.

I still need to come up with a title… will update when it comes to me.

Process and detail pictures in the gallery.

Sophia – Completed painting and process

So I just finished another painting in the An-Noor series.  The subject is my friend Sophia, whom I love.  ❤

Her pose is a bit of a departure from the rest of the paintings I have done thus far, in that she is looking down, away from the camera.  Her strength, her light, shines brightly, but she illustrates a quieter strength than some of the other images.  I am really enjoying the way that the paintings in this project clearly fit together as a collection, share imagery and ideas, yet each individual painting is its own entity, and is born out of a conversation with the subject.

SYMBOLS:
There are some pretty obvious symbols in this image – her white coat, the American flag, and the stenciled pattern radiating out from her head.

Halo.  I’ve used halos in previous paintings, and will do so in future ones… Sophia’s halo was created with a design that suggests her Pakistani heritage.  It is pretty amazing how 2-D shapes can communicate this so effectively.  I looked at images of Pakistani and Indian textiles in order to create the stencil.  The halo, of course, is a representation of her inner light, her Noor.

American Flag.  The other symbol worth discussing is the American flag.  I went back and forth in my mind about using this… It’s an image that is everywhere.  Aesthetically, I love the way the flag looks…but what does it mean?  Does it represent an unquestioning patriotism?  A (blind?) devotion to the “American way,” to western values and culture, its wars?  Is it an image that is exclusive, that can only belong to those who conform to a narrow idea of what it means to be American?  Does it mean getting wasted on the Fourth of July while eating fried chicken and spitting watermelon seeds?  I never thought about the American flag that much, until September 11th.  In the days and weeks that followed, the flag was everywhere.  Painted on cars, on faces.  Plastered on t-shirts.  Waving in the wind, attached to cheap plastic sticks, or flagpoles reaching into the sky.  And when I saw these flags, I felt afraid.  Not defiant, or angry, or patriotic, just afraid.  I was young (15 years old), sure, but the stories I was hearing, of people, my friends, being told by strangers to “go back to your own country,” being spit on, shoved into lockers, the bomb threats at our mosque… that’s part of what that flag suddenly came to mean in those days.  But I love this country, I always have.  It is because I was born here, raised here, that I can make art the way that I do, that I have been able to find a unique path.  I guess I could talk about this for a while, what the flag means to me, but I’d rather not.  Alls I mean is, the American flag is not a one-dimensional or static symbol, but one that shifts, evolves, and is as dynamic as the peoples of this country.
So I decided to use it.  And it will show up again in another painting in the series.

PROCESS:
Once again I used acrylic paint and gold leaf.

Halo.
I created a stencil out of cardstock.  I used it to put down the pattern in yellow paint.

Picstitch of stencil

Picstitch of stencil

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Next, I painted on adhesive on top of the yellow paint, and applied the gold leaf.
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I fixed up the edges of the gold-leafed designs by really thinly tracing it with paint.  The innermost circle is the brightest yellow, and the outermost circle is the least saturated yellow.
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Finally I added a thin layer of gold paint around the pattern to kind of tie everything together a bit more and give it some more ambient light.

American Flag/Background.
Painting bricks = lots of layers.  I love bricks (painted some in Dina’s painting) because while it seems like it would be so simple, each brick is unique, and textured.  So I can add all sorts of colors into it.  Even with all the colors, when I had finished the bricks, I felt like it needed some roughing up… it was too flat and clean looking.  I considered using a crackle medium, but didn’t go that route.  Sooooo… I did a little experiment!!  I mixed the gold leaf adhesive with dish soap and water, and applied it to the background.  Basically, I figured that the dish soap would counteract the adhesive, so the gold leaf wouldn’t stick to every area… and give it a more random effect.  And it worked!!  I did a couple layers of this mixture around the blue area so I could have a greater concentration of gold there (to suggest the stars of the American flag).  It was a little bit distracting though, and was calling attention away from the focal points, so I painted over the gold leaf with thin layers so it shines through intermittently and is not quite so bright/reflective.  The result reminds me of distressed blue jeans.