Collaborators Katie O’Loughlin and John T Cartwright
In the spirit of collaboration and trying new things, I embarked on a project with my colleague, Katie O’Loughlin, to explore the process of creation through a different artform: painting. We both expressed an interest in painting with our bodies and gravitated to the idea of creating something that embodied our journeys to grad school during a global pandemic. The result were two large panels of swirling colors, but the process of how we got there was the most interesting part.
We began by gathering supplies. Shopping during a global pandemic can be anxiety inducing, but together, with our masks and list of ideas, we set out to find paint and something to paint on. For our canvas we decided on long rolls of paper, each of us having about 9ft to work with. For our paint we had to do some research. After some Google searches, consulting with a friend of Katie’s, and seeking the advice of another shopper we met in the paint aisle, we decided non-toxic acrylic paint was the way to go. But, there were so many options: matte, gloss, satin, metallic, neon, etc. We bought one of each kind to test on our paper, then returned to the store. Initially we were drawn to the matte and metallic paints, but the availability dictated what we bought: matte.
Armed with paint, paper, cameras, tripods, and random items to hold down the paper, we headed to Tuttle Park to begin making. As we began to set up in the grass between the cricket pitch and the baseball field, we noticed the wind, something we neglected to factor in during the planning process. Luckily the items we brought to keep the paper from rolling up would aid in keeping the paper from flying away, or so we thought. We quickly realized we needed more things on the paper and began emptying the contents of our bags, placing items not just on the edges but all over to hold it down.
Now that our large canvases were covered in books, water bottles, shoes, and containers of hand sanitizing wipes, we noticed that these objects were in our way. Just as there had been many things in our way of getting to grad school, we would have to navigate around these obstacles as we painted the story of our journeys. The wind was also a constant, interfering presence we had to deal with. It served as a stark reminder that there are outside forces for which we could not always plan, but something we had to take in stride with ingenuity, humor, and grace.
We started on opposite ends of our panels, surveying the blank, obstacle filled canvas in front of us. As we began working in silence, we were focused on our own painting and the items on our canvas that began to be incorporated into our work. A step ladder (that I just happened to bring) sat between our panels, holding them in place and bridging the space between. For us it became a place to connect, sit and reflect, and to get a higher view point to see the progress of our work.
As our bodies and painting grew closer together, we began observing the work our collaborator had done, noticing differences and similarities. We interacted with each other’s painting, adding a splash of paint from our palette onto the canvas of our friend’s. Then we interacted with each other; offering hand wipes and sanitizer to each other to clean ourselves, lending face masks for protection, and finding a place to rest and reflect on our painted journey together. Our journeys had started separately, but they were connected and eventually led us to the same place. The process each of us took to make our painting had been different, but our product was a pair of paintings that connected the stories of two people.
Cleaning up, we delighted in the art we had just created. We took account of our surroundings, noticing the people around us going about their Friday afternoon in the park, the sky’s beautiful colors as the sun began to set, and the vastness of space around us. Here we were, processing our journeys to grad school during a global pandemic, and the world around us was filled with people on their own journeys and nature existing all around. This process of making had led to the realization, for me, that our journeys are both unique and intertwined to those around us. Our path may be new and filled with obstacles, but others are also on their own path, navigating through their own circumstances. If we’re lucky, our paths lead us to places where we get to meet new collaborators and friends, and if you’re really lucky like me, you’ll meet someone who shares their hand sanitizing wipes with you too.