Art and Loss: A Tribute to a Departed Friend

Added on by Denise Gasser.

There seems to be a prevalent stereotype that artists are driven and inspired by tragedy, alienation, depression, and frustration with society. This is what drives them to create. This is what fuels their artistic genius. Being an easy-going, extrovert with relatively few tragedies to claim, I have never fit this stereotype. In fact, I have often joked that if my life was a little more tragic maybe I would be a more successful artist. 

In September of 2014 I had what I would consider my first introduction to absolute tragedy. My very dear friend of 20 years, Kayelyn Louder, went missing. Like, really missing...the kind of missing where her face was on posters plastered around the city and her story was on national news. It didn’t seem possible that the person I grew up with, went to college and roomed with, and somehow stayed in touch with over the years, was the same person that Nancy Grace was raging about as she spewed a mix of gossip, facts, and half-truths. It was a horrible time. I knew her so well, and I had so much information in my head that may or may not be relevant to her case, and no way to know because I was so far away from everything. I’m living in Canada and all of this was happening in Utah, so communication was tricky and I often felt isolated and disconnected from one of the most significant events of my life.  

After more than 9 weeks of torture, sleepless nights, and near constant emotional eruptions, her body was finally found by city workers in the Jordan River. This news brought a combination of equal relief and grief. Relief that we had found her, could bury her, and wouldn’t spend the rest of our lives looking and wondering if she was alive...and grief that all hope was lost and she really was gone. 

She was found in December 2014 and to this day we are still looking for answers. We have no idea how she got there, and fear that maybe we never will. This whole thing really changed my perspective; the world became a darker, more sinister place. That invisible barrier that always stood between me and the newscaster’s scary stories had crumbled, and suddenly I felt very exposed. For the first time in my life I felt alienated, depressed, helpless, frustrated with society...no...disgusted with society. I had all the classic symptoms of a tortured artist. But here’s the thing...I didn’t feel even the slightest amount of inspiration. I didn’t want to paint my feelings, I didn’t want to paint at all. I basically didn’t pick up a brush from September to December, it was literally the last thing I wanted to do. I felt somewhat robotic, just going through the motions to get through each day. I was drained and I really wondered when and how I would get back to a place that I felt more inspired than numb.

The moment I got the call telling me that her body had been identified, I thought of her family and wondered how they would ever get through this. I wanted so badly to do something...anything at all that would bring them even a moment of peace, or joy. I felt like my art was probably the best I could offer, so I determined to make a painting for them that would represent Kayelyn, and help them to remember her beautiful life. It took four months to complete, and I have never struggled so much to finish a painting. When I gave this to her family, I also sent a letter, which among many other things, included a description of the symbolism of the painting, which I will include below.

“This tree symbolizes Kayelyn’s beautiful life.  It is a banyan tree, known for their aerial roots, which drop down from their branches and secure themselves into the soil. They become deeply rooted then continue to thicken and grow until they are strong and almost indistinguishable from the main trunk. These trees spread out covering large expanses, but each trunk is connected to, and literally a part of the main trunk. This is how I think about Kayelyn. She spent her entire life putting down roots in every person she met. She loved so many people, brought them into her circle, built them up, and strengthened them. There is a part of her that lives on inside all of us who knew her. I know it’s not the same; nothing will replace Kayelyn in our hearts. But it’s a comfort to think that her sense of humor, her outlook on life, the music she shared, the books she recommended, her crazy ideas and adventures have changed us, and literally made us who we are. Though she is gone from this Earth, she lives on in this interconnected tree of family, friends, and loved ones who wouldn’t be the same without her. She will never, ever be forgotten.”

Though creating this piece was very frustrating at times, it was also very motivating. It gave me a goal and a purpose, and forced me paint even when I really didn’t want to. I still think of Kayelyn every day and dream about her often. I still want answers for what happened to her. My heart still aches for her family. I still cry. But I am painting again, and I know this piece was a big part of that process. Needless to say, I still don’t identify with the ‘tortured artist’ stereotype. Beauty, joy, and life has always been at the root of my work, and I hope it always will be.

Kayelyn’s case is still being investigated. To learn more, or to help, please join the facebook page ‘FindKayelynLouder’.

Art After: Artist Statement...the Long and Lovely Version

Added on by Denise Gasser.

My series, Art After, is really coming along. The following artist statement is probably a bit too long to keep, considering most people don't want to read more than a paragraph at most!! But this statement really describes my mixed emotions about art and motherhood, and my feelings about his project.

I feel like I am running in waist-high water.  My legs are trying frantically to thrust forward, but the weight of the water proves an indomitable force.  My mind is racing ahead. Though I try to slow my thoughts, and allow my mind to be present with my body, it continues to push farther and farther ahead, creating a gap impossible to bridge.  As an artist/mother, this is my daily battle. My mind is pulsing, begging to accomplish, to achieve, to act. It houses a never-ending flow of thoughts and ideas, everything from menial household tasks to grand artistic endeavors. But try as I might to complete even the simplest task, I am continually interrupted—literally stuck in place at times as I engage in the daily labors of motherhood.

This series is my attempt to harness the tension that exists between my vital roles as artist and mother. Bridging the gap between mental aspirations and physical reality, I embrace the interruptions that typically hinder the creative process. It is the ultimate act of accepting my “maternal experience as a fundamentally powerful source of inspiration”.[3]

The content for these small paintings is pulled from the scattered fragments of daily life with my children. I create each piece in one sitting, working without stopping until I am finished, or until I am interrupted.  Often my stopping point is the moment I cannot possibly continue painting through the interruptions. At that point I stop working, and cannot revisit that piece. On the back of each painting I carefully document the start time, the end time, and the nature of the interruption that forced me to stop. The duration of each painting ranges wildly, from under two minutes to over two hours­­—an apt reflection of my piecemeal reality.

The simple act of accepting my circumstances and working within those parameters has been both therapeutic and illuminating. These small artworks, in their varying levels of success and completion, come together as a rich tapestry to represent not only the struggle, but also the beauty and triumph I experience as I continue to make art after taking on motherhood. I am still running in water, but I am more in tune with the sensation of the water, and the ache of my muscles as they gain strength. I acknowledge and revere every inch I gain as I continue pressing forward.

This image shows the first 32 paintings in the series. It gives you a bit of an idea what it might be like to see hundreds of them all together on the wall. It really has been therapeutic to simply accept my current circumstances, because they won’t change…not for a long time anyway. But I am finding ways to appreciate and work through those circumstances. And it really is making me stronger.

A Relationship Worth Fighting For

Added on by Denise Gasser.

Of all the bad relationships people choose to endure, I think an artist’s relationship with artmaking is among the most arduous and significant. It’s hot and cold, on-again/off again. It incurs the most elating and rewarding highs as well as the most bitter and depressing lows. Yet try as you might to leave it for good, artmaking is always there…beckoning, challenging, confirming again and again that you will never be truly happy without it.  Even in the most ideal circumstances, this is a challenging relationship to sustain. But if you can just accept this fact, and give artmaking even a portion of the time and attention it seeks, you will see how it changes you...how it adds a sweetness to your life that cannot be duplicated in any other way. A relationship worth fighting for. 

Just Get to Work Already!

Added on by Denise Gasser.

I have been rereading Art & Fear...a sweet book about the 'perils and rewards of artmaking'. Here's a quote that made me laugh because it is SOOO true.

'Artists don't get down to work until the pain of working is exceeded by the pain of not working.' --Stephen DeStaebler

Nailed it, Stephen.

A New Series: Art After

Added on by Denise Gasser.

I have started work on a couple of new projects, but I am especially excited about this new series of mini paintings. It's a project meant to embody the challenges and rewards of artmaking after motherhood. It was initially meant to be part of a group show with fellow artist/mothers Julianne Kozak and Jennifer Johnson. It wasn't quite working for everyone's schedules and availability, so Art After has become a solo show. 

As you probably know, I have two young kids...and sometimes it feels like a total joke to attempt any kind of a painting career at this point in my life. But quitting would be an even bigger joke (I sort of tried quitting a while back...not good results). So I keep pushing forward in whatever way I can. It's a messy life at times...trying to meld these two vital parts of myself...but I think this balancing act actually makes me a stronger artist and a stronger mother.

So...for the new series...I will be creating miniature paintings (5x7) that must be completed in one sitting. The moment I am interrupted, I have to drop what I am doing...and NEVER RETURN...dun dun dun. Interruption is basically the theme of my entire existence, so I figured I might as well just go with it. For each piece I am documenting a start time, end time, and what it was that interrupted my work flow. Some paintings may get several hours, and some might only get ten minutes. Subject matter will be scattered fragments of my daily life with my children.

These are the first three pieces. I actually tried doing three at once so I could make the most of drying time etc. I did these in just over an hour during Grey's nap the other day. Talk about living on the edge...what an adrenaline rush! ha ha. Really though, it was weird knowing that at any moment I might have to walk away and leave them in a hideous state. Just as I heard Grey waking up I stenciled these circles in a mad scramble, trying to give them at least some semblance of resolution. Not TOO bad, I think. Though it worked well to do three at once, for the sake of clarity in the project, I decided to only work on one at a moving forward. I think it's better to see the exact start and finish time for each piece. Look out for more updates.

So I'm Pretty Sure This is Done: 7 Words to Never Say Out Loud

Added on by Denise Gasser.

...At least not in front of other people anyway! Those words place a wicked spell on those around you which forces them to see multiple ways in which your painting is unresolved or otherwise flawed. I brought this piece to my monthly art critique group. As I set it out announced that it was done.

I was ready to be done whether I truly believed it or not. Part way through the discussion my perfectly lovely and honest friend must not have heard that declaration or she chose to ignore it when she said, '...something, something...this is obviously not done yet, but...something, something else...' I don't remember much except for the part where she assumed there was no way I could possibly be pretending to be done. Aaarrrggghhhh. She was absolutely right, I wasn't arguing that, but sometimes you just can't stand the sight of a certain painting and you NEED to be done. 

But, I pulled myself together and used every ounce of ambition and will power and forced my way to a better painting that feels much more resolved...or dare I say...finished. If you disagree, please feel free to keep it to yourself, just this once:)

Opening Reception

Added on by Denise Gasser.

The opening reception at the Hycroft turned out to be a great event! Aside from the 1 minute and 7 second speech I had to give, (I was surprisingly super nervous) the good times were rolling the rest of the night:) The Hycroft planned a beautiful reception with great food, and we had a really big turn out! Lots of friends came out to support me, which was great considering my family is so far away. Liza Montgomery, the other artist showing with me that night, was awesome to work with. I love her work and with our powers combined I think we put on a pretty great show. 

Julianne was there and snapped some photos of the reception. (Thanks again Julianne! You are the best!) So go ahead and have a looksy:)


Spiders Never Say Die: A Motto to Live By

Added on by Denise Gasser.

Do you believe in signs, or omens...or spirit animal best friends in the form of spiders? Neither did I. Generally speaking I loathe spiders; I curse at them and violently beat them when they cross my threshold. However, this loathing must come with a certain amount of fascination because I love to observe their disgustingness from a safe distance. So when a giant spider made her home directly outside my kitchen window I let her stay so I could gross myself out by looking at her all day long. I found my heart softening toward her as I watched her struggle for daily survival. Like one time she was hugely pregnant looking and frantically trying to wrap up her tasty meal but she was a bit overzealous and it dropped to the ground before she could eat it. Awww man...I hate when that happens to me, I thought:)

During a very stormy September there were several times when the rain would destroy part of her web and she would disappear. Every time this happened I thought for sure she was a goner, but after a day or two she would always come back, rebuild her web, and continue business as usual. I started silently cheering for her each time she made a comeback. Near the end of September there was a huge storm that literally flooded the streets. It obliterated her web and she disappeared for real this this time. It had been over a week and I have to admit I was a little sad when I realized she wasn't coming back.

Now...back to my own drama. It was the morning before I had to hang a big art show. Dan had already framed everything (such a supportive husband!) but I still had all of the finishing work to do which involved me using an actual power tool (never a good idea) to drill tiny holes, screwing in eye hooks, and wiring them. I also had to sign each painting (which somehow feels like the hardest part), spray them with a finishing coat, label the backs and then package them up for transport the next morning.

One day. Fifteen paintings. A fussy baby. A three year old karate chopping my leg. A husband heading out the door to work who wouldn't return until the wee hours of the morning. I was in trouble. Literally about to cry as I realized how impossible it felt.

Just then I looked up from the kitchen sink and out the window...and to my utter amazement there she was! My spider friend was alive! And she was working fast and hard to rebuild her web yet again. I felt instantly charged and motivated by her sudden reappearance and her stalwart resilience. Then I literally laughed out loud to realize how exhausted and desperate I must be if a spider was actually cheering me up. Clearly I needed more sleep and more social interaction. Regardless of how ridiculous it was, I actually felt better. I pulled myself together and got straight to work, but only after snapping a picture of my best friend in action.

I was calculated and collected as I completed tasks throughout the day. And I kept the power tool situation mostly under control, except when I drilled all the way through the wood a couple of times. oops. 

The only other hitch was the hardware store incident, which involved a wailing baby, a forgotten wallet and the imminent threat of a rainstorm. Turns out they don't let you pay with a memorized (yes, I may do some online shopping) credit card number! My rush in all this was not shared by Liam, who walked as slowly as he could. He actually said ‘I want to walk as slow as I can.’ Somehow we made it home, back to the store, and home again just as the rain started pouring down.

After that it was pretty smooth sailing. By early that night I had it all done!

Set up the next morning was also pretty quick and simple thanks to my good friend Julianne (also a super talented photographer). She came along to help hang everything and snapped some photos of the process.

photo courtesy of Julianne Kozak

photo courtesy of Julianne Kozak

photo courtesy of Julianne Kozak

photo courtesy of Julianne Kozak

photo courtesy of Julianne Kozak

photo courtesy of Julianne Kozak

It felt amazing to stand back and see all of my work up there...on the infamous thirty foot wall that I had stressed about for the past year. I had exactly enough paintings, no more, no less. Sweet Relief. Thank you Spider...I totally owe you one. 

Bad Girls Do it Well

Added on by Denise Gasser.

I am finally having some business cards printed! It's been a long time coming. There's nothing like an actual deadline to force you to get something done. Last Friday my husband took a half day and happened to be home when the boys went down for naps (technically Liam has 'quiet time' which is strangely similar to time out but lasts WAAAY longer). Suddenly the whole world opened up to me...I could go anywhere, do anything. My mind was racing as to how I could possibly make the most of these few short daytime hours without kids. So I headed down to Vanprint to check out their business card options. Crazy, I know. As I hopped in the car I knew just what I would listen to. A few days before I randomly heard the song 'Bad Girls' by M.I.A. Let me just say this is basically the farthest thing from anything I would ever listen to on purpose. But somehow as I headed out on my lone trip to the print shop I felt strangely compelled to blast this song with the windows down. So I found it on youtube, plugged in, and peeled out. I'm pretty sure I looked something like this.

This turned what may seem like an ordinary errand into an ordinary errand with loud music. I decided I would not be embarrassed and only wavered once when I was stopped at a light and several people were walking slowly past my car. But I only turned the volume down a little. 

The printshop had some really nice options including silk laminated cards, which I loved. It gives it a really nice finish. I have had great experiences with Vanprint in the past. It was a brief but successful stop.

I knew I couldn't just go home so I stopped by Michael's for a charcoal pencil. While in Michael's my husband called and let me know that my dear baby had only slept for about five minutes and was starting to get hungry. So I told him I would head STRAIGHT home, but really I walked slowly through the frame section before making my way to the front to purchase my pencil. What can I say? 'Live fast, die young...bad girls do it well'.

Considering I had hit replay on that song about seventeen times already I opted for Johnny Flynn instead and enjoyed a slow drive home. 

With the help of my architect husband and the faithful members of our monthly art group I ended up with what I think is a pretty sweet card design. It was low key...I only changed my mind 20 times before I sent images to the printer, panicked, changed my mind again, stopped the press, redesigned, questioned, edited, re-edited, and sent them to the printer again. Here is the finished design:

I am so happy to finally have updated business cards. Now I just have to find people to give them to:)

Seven Day Painting: The Making of a Crime Scene

Added on by Denise Gasser.

Some mornings when I’m feeling extra motivated I throw the kids in the car and head down to Stanley Park to walk the Sea Wall. So gorgeous! It’s a great way to clear my head and there are lot’s of amazing trees along the way. It’s outings like this that make me feel like a great mom…someone who has it all together. If you want to keep that impression of me, please stop reading now. If you want the ugly truth, please continue:) 

The other day while we were out I found this amazing gem just off the path! I stopped and took at least a dozen photos, then decided on this one to inspire a new piece.

I had recently decided to have a bunch of my work professionally photographed, and the photographer was coming exactly one week from last Saturday. I still had two small paintings to finish before then, but was really hoping to crank out one more piece before she came. So I determined that I would attempt to start and finish a painting in exactly one week! (I am usually SUPER slow…like taking months to finish one piece.)

My husband, Dan, was great and took my three year old, Liam, out for a hike for most of the day on Saturday. Sweet! Now I just needed my three month old, Grey, to sleep all day:) Things started out just fine. He slept for quite a while and what started out as a simple blue background turned into this in just a couple of hours.

That’s when I heard him cry…the beginning of what would shortly become my worst mom moment yet. I was right in the middle of something with a brush full of paint so I nestled him into his carseat and bounced him with the crook of my elbow while I continued painting…something I have done MANY times before. But this fateful day something terrible happened!!! It was so awful I don’t even want to write it. As I went to adjust the seat to a more comfortable bouncing position he slipped straight out of the carseat and landed with a thud on the tile floor! I just about vomited. I dropped my brush on the floor and grabbed my poor screaming baby. I was so worried that he might be permanently damaged and ran through all of the worst, most dramatic possibilities in my mind. In that moment I wondered…‘Is this what it takes to keep painting while raising kids?’ It felt like a metaphor for my life. I sheepishly typed 'dropped my baby’ into google and was only somewhat comforted to see hundreds of similar searches by other terrible mothers out there. After quite a but of research and some happy/normal behavior from my baby I determined that he was probably fine. But I was disgusted by the sight of my studio area that read like a crime scene…a full paintbrush and trail of paint on the tile where I dropped my brush, a carseat thrown aside, the spot on my painting where I stopped mid-stroke. I was not about to return. 

After several hours had passed, and Grey seemed like he had made a full recovery I figured it would be safe to get back to work. But I adopted a much safer approach to bouncing a baby while painting...at my feet in a bouncer while I panted at the table:)

Here is the finished product. I literally finished adding the gold leafing and painting the hexagons super late on Friday night, just in time for the photo session on Saturday morning. It was a CRAZY week! Dan had an 80 hour work week so I was pretty much on my own…but somehow I pulled it all together. (somehow=Liam watching a LOT of T.V.) Not great mothering, but as you know it could be worse.

So far this piece is still untitled, though I will probably name it after my poor baby Grey who really sacrificed the most to make it happen.