Saturday, May 2, 2015

Cutter: A painting about self injury

Cutter, an acrylic on canvas painting, 2015

Cutting never seemed like something I had ever done in the past.  When I started cutting my wrists recently, I realized that I had done it before, but not the severity that was coming now.  My mind tends to forget memories that are not pleasant. This amnesia works until something wakes me.
Cutters may self-harm for a variety of reasons. Mine started from a real attempt at suicide. The pain of being immobile and mental agony was so strong I could feel it as if it were one large physical wound. I could never point to where the pain was emanating. I did not have headaches, or throbbing pain. What I had was an overwhelming weariness of going around and around bipolar poles of up and then down.
If life was going to be a perpetual shift of constant moods from suicidal depression to over the top optimism, there was no value in continuing when you are unable to do anything but go up and down and up and down. I was worn out, and it was not from age. I know what growing older feels like. This was something very different.
They say you don’t recall pain. You may not be able to recall it like some memories, but intellectually I had a very solid picture in my mind of what I felt. I knew where my mind was. I was slipping into a reality of my own invention.
This was something like a semi delusional break from reality. It was a break where I was going to a place that is incorporeal. This was the place where beautiful things are made, then damaged. This is not the lofty heights of mania that conjure magnificent dreams. This place is located in the hostile interior of the mind and it is dark, theatrical, intense, poetic, but far too dangerous a place to stay. When I was thrown into that world, cutting was a way out of the tentacles of sorrows.
The first cut hurts. They all do, but I continued because I was expressing myself. I was unleashing the pressure that was holding such a vice like grip on everything I was doing. All I was capable of doing was feeling pain. The respite provided by mania was absent. Cutting jolted me back to the real world. I felt things again. The mental pain was replaced by a desire to keep cutting. I felt alive.
I tried to stop cutting, but I couldn't. I wanted to see if I could endure the pain. I wanted to draw blood. I knew this was madness, but I could not stop. I was a junky promising to go to rehab knowing full well that the monkey on my back is always in need of a meal that I would always provide. I felt like I was hooked on my own cutting.
I felt pain, but I just closed my eyes. When I opened them my marks were like battle scars. They were linear pieces of art dug into my skin. They were my own personal statement. In a crude way they looked beautiful. That was what I was thinking of at the time. A row of horizontal lines running from my wrists up my arm. Each one was deeper. Each mark let just a little more air out of the pressure cooker that was my mind.  As I progressed I do so eyes open. 
My mind was two edged sword. I had a sense that this was crazy. I had another sense that told me this was what I needed to do. It felt good and bad. I was sliding down, but I thought this was not so bad. People do more damage than this. I felt proud. I had created my own performance piece of art for myself.
When I stopped, I felt better. I felt that I was really painting in my own blood.
“Cutter” was my expression of the cutting experience. It was not long after I had my first cutting episode that I thought this experience would make a compelling painting.
Faster than any work I have ever created before, Cutter arrived like Athena out of Zeus’ head. The details needed defining, but I had a total mental picture in my mind of what I wanted to say about cutting. There were no long studies. There were no confused areas. Cutting emerged in my mind complete. The only way that image was ever going to leave me is if I painted it.
There was an almost religious ritual like quality with this painting. I was delving into the very depths of an experience, and it was revealing. Just as I go through the trials and tribulations of creating, I do not remember the feeling of pain in making this piece.  I know there were rough areas, but I do not remember them. 
I remember what I felt when I cut intellectually, even the relief it provided.  But I do not recall the pain that I know was there when I made this piece.
Like “Horse,” “Cutter” was created entirely while I was on medications. I was also using the same influences as “Horse.” They are closely related. They both use animals to represent the mind. They both are inspired by the same sources.
Central to the work is the expressionistic eagle. It represents a mind in chaos. It also represents a mind that is decisive, sharp and desperately hanging on with talons grasping the essence of sanity itself. There is fear, anxiety, pride and flight. The spread wings are lighter on one side and darker on the other. The wings and background are divided in half.  One side is bright, the up side of bipolar. The other side is dark, the depressed side of bipolar.
The arms on either side of the eagle represent mania and depression. Stylized to a great degree, the lines on the arm on the right show straight horizontal red lines.  Those strokes represent the cuts.
Unintentionally, I had created the colors of the old German flag of red, black and white. It is something subtle, but I noticed it not long after I created it.  My father was an artist and this was an unconscious reference to him and German art.  For years I wanted to create work that specifically addressed my father.  Due to circumstances beyond his control, he could not create art. In the back of my mind I believe part of my drive is to create is to continue what he could not.
According to what was passed down to me, my Great Grandfather had substantial talent. It was told to me that he actually was accepted at an art institute of some sort to become an artist.  He felt there was no use in going, which was tragic. But, he was considered talented enough to create fine art for the church in his community.  That was a fact given to me much later in life. The vast majority of my family were musicians, on both sides.

Intense emotion is, at least for me, a challenge. This time, the eagle became so much darker. The eyes were not the eyes of a bird. They were the eyes of a man. 

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