The story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf was one of my favorites as a child. I loved that there could be a creature who defined non-conformity, acceptance, and love by purely staying true to oneself. Banned in Spain until 1975 and in Germany, Hitler demanded it burned as degenerate propaganda, this story seems simple, powerful, and timeless-worth celebrating even today.
My painting Ferdinand represents a similar story for me in the way it came into being. I create with a lean toward the indefinable spirit that lies within me. I had painted this 48x60 inch canvas with a deep magenta enamel with broad undulating strokes that left a subtle background. I set it aside, knowing that it would be there when the spirit moved me.
A month or more later, during my painting explorations in abstract landscapes with acrylic paint, I came to the end of my working day with a stack of plates filled with my leftover paints and the old proverb, waste not, want not come to mind. I had been stretching my brain all day, working to define depth in a landscape, and knew the time for my magenta canvas had come. I needed to remove my reigns of planning and thinking. I set her on the floor, leaning against a table, rested my stack of paints and brushes to my right side, and knelt with my knees inches from the canvas. I released my detail/planning portion of my brain from the process and allowed my body and creative spirit to reign fully.
I had no fear, no thought of what I wanted to create, just the sense that this was an act of letting go. I moved with my whole body and mind free. The only parameter I gave myself at the start was to use my paints as I stacked them, meaning that I did not know what colors were on which plate, and I would work down from the top as I uncovered and used them up. Drippy or thick, slow or fast, my brushes moved, all the while my mind relaxed.
When all of my paints were gone, I stood up to assess my work. This is the kind of moment I live for: when my heart feels like it is singing. Through no intent of my own, I created what appeared to me to be a beast of some sort, and then I saw the little undulation I had made at the bottom right of the canvas, and the name Ferdinand came to me. It was the bee!
Why is this painting's story like the Story of Ferdinand? It is because this painting represents me. I realize that as an artist, I, too, define non-conformity, acceptance, and love by purely staying true to myself. Someday I may winnow down my creativity to one medium or style, but for now, being free to explore as I do makes me happy and my happiness spills over onto my canvases and into how I move through the world.
I like to incorporate the edges of the canvas into my art; this expands the work, giving the viewer a different perspective from each side. I have signed this painting on the front, and the back contains the title, materials I used, my name, signature again, the year, and the dimensions.
If you are interested in learning more about it, look up Surrealist automatism, a method of art-making in which the artist suppresses conscious control over the making process, allowing the unconscious mind to have great sway. Early 20th-century Dadaists, such as Hans Arp, made some use of this method through chance operations.