Lizard Head and Backbend Dancer burst into my vision as I walked by the bushy vines clinging to a stucco wall in my neighborhood. When I gazed into the textured swarm of leaves, these two figures appeared to my inner vision. In the animated swirls of the foliage, I sensed dancers.
Lizard Head’s mouth opened wide in a yell of ecstasy as he leapt. Backbend Dancer’s flexibility seemed to be her strength. I imagined the two so strongly, I photographed them and made 11”x16” prints at the copy shop.
Once at my drawing table, I propped the large photographs against my walls, at a distance, so as to see forms and shapes more clearly. At first, the photos looked like an ordinary pyrocantha bush, common in many gardens, with pleasant orange berries, the kind most people wouldn’t give a second glance. But when I looked hard, I saw dancers.
I’m used to tuning into my mind’s eye, dropping into a meditative state and letting a new world appear, as if I’d clicked the Pareidolla (yes, this experience has a name) Channel on the TV remote. When I relaxed my eyes and mind, I asked myself, What do I see beneath the surface? Voila, Lizard Head roared into being. And Backbend Dancer flew into my sight. Once I had them firmly in my mind, seeing details such as eyes and skin texture, I put them on my art table and began to draw with oil sticks: oil paint hardened into a crayon form. I eliminated background leaves with gray oils that matched the stucco wall, thereby bringing the moving forms forward. With colors, I defined their waving arms, oddly shaped heads and flailing legs caught in mid-gesture.
I worked on each one separately, thinking of them as independent beings, unrelated. But they surprised me. Both were much tougher than I’d expected with Lizard Head’s muscled legs and Backbend Dancer’s agile airborne arch.
When they seemed complete, I tacked them on my wall with fifteen other drawings from the same hedge. But amongst the other drawings, Lizard Head and Backbend Dancer seemed to need each other, so I paired them up and their revelation stunned me.
Lizard Head projected a raw male force. When placed next to the ultra-flexible Backbend Dancer, his extended leg became a kick and his open mouth a growl. Bent almost double by Lizard Head’s force, Backbend Dancer pushed away and flew free. She flowed in an elegant trajectory away from him. Her face showed surprise and perhaps remorse, yet she created a lovely form in her energetic exit.
When I looked at the two, I realized I had drawn exactly what I felt when someone ridiculed me or used mean sarcasm. I felt kicked and I did the same as Backbend Dancer: off-guard, I fled as quickly as possible. While I couldn’t claim the same grace as Backbend Dancer, I experienced the same hurried dispatch.
Even though the two characters had evolved into an act of violence, I took savage delight in having created them, in expressing exactly what I have felt during confusing and emotional times in the past.. Both of my drawn characters projected cartoonish personas. Lizard Head, with his oversized pebbly face and gaping jaws reminded me of my muscle-bound Uncle Chuck who terrified me when he had roared at my cousins and me during our childhood years. Now, as an adult, Lizard Head looked more like a hapless Pop-Eye. And Backbend Dancer with her startled U-shape, embodied female turmoil in the face of male disturbance. But, now that I’ve created enough inner strength, I felt positive when I looked at her; I know how to fly free.
2023 July 27-30
Seattle Art Fair
Kaethe Kauffman’s 2022 piece, The Rain Tree will be on exhibit at the Seattle Art Fair,
July 27-30 in the Walter Wickiser Gallery, New York section. More Info