My pace has slowed, and things seems to be taking a new direction. This summer I received a request for a painting on an unusual canvas - a longhorn skull. It took a few months, and a few different strategies, but both the patron and I were pleased with the results. I'm currently working on a bison skull for the same patron.
Unconventional canvases call for unconventional easels. I painted this in our workout room, surrounded by gloves, mats, and muscular hunks.
Henri lent her services for showing the actual length of this magnificent animal's head.
It took two trips to Colorado this summer for this project to finally reach completion. The patron requested the 'Trail's End' image be included, but the rest was up to me. The background was inspired by Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs. Pictured are the North and South Gate, with Pikes Peak under a full moon.
Once I got started, I really enjoyed following the curves and lines in the bone with the drawing. The three howling wolves are something I wish I had been able to do in my travels - a visit to the wolf sanctuary near Colorado Springs.
Magpies are a personal mascot. I always take a magpie as a sign of good things to come, and I saw many in Vail this summer. So, one appeared in the painting!
Yesterday my friend Audrey gave me a crocheting lesson. My mom once taught me to make a basic chain, but I never absorbed the lecture on turning around—so I was doomed to spend eternity weaving one continuous strand of yarn. Thanks to Audrey, now I can turn around and do a double stitch for double the fun! (I still refuse to count my stitches. Counting will never be a part of any hobby I take up.) Like most valuable skills, learning this one came with its share of cursing, yelling and bleeding. That’s just what happens when you try to keep two cats away from miles of colorful moving string.
After dinner Audrey said to me, “You are a crazy cat lady. You have two cats. That’s more than one cat. That makes you a cat lady.” Well, fine. I can’t argue with that logic. But it’s either talking to the cats or talking to myself, and I think the second is slightly more disturbing. Anyway, lots of writers and painters have a thing for cats. Hemingway, Gertrude Abercrombie, Pierre Bonnard (inspiration for my only piece of artwork featuring a cat), my poet friend Cole, Professor John Dilg…the list goes on.
Terrible images of disgustingly sweet kittens wearing big pink ribbons are easy to find--I’m thinkingUmbridge’s office in Hogwarts. However, there were some legit artists who specialized in cats. Ever seen the yellow poster with the spiky black cat and the text, “Tournee du Chat Noir”? It’s by Theophile Steinlen, a prolific painter, sculptor and printmaker.
Louis Wain, though he was guilty of a few of his own excessively adorable cat paintings, created some deviously personified kitties. Diagnosed with schizophrenia (which, let’s just be clear, had no connection to his fondness for felines), Wain painted intriguing cat portraits to illustrate the way the illness made him feel.
Now, not only can you make art about cats, you can use live cats as art. Stacking stuff on sleeping cats is a challenging new form of sculpture. Photographers and witty captioneers are also benefiting from the cat genre.
Same goes for cat video voiceover-ists.
So yes, I have two cats. That's more than one cat, and that's fine with me.
Last night I dreamt my apartment was beautiful. The bathroom had a deep, wide bathtub set into the floor. The walls were covered with decorated mirrors and rococo chandeliers hung from the ceilings. There was room, after room, after room. I explored each, awed by the exquisite eccentricity I had never noticed.
Then, I started to see the doors. And the holes. There were doors everywhere, doors without locks, doors with holes where the knobs should have been. Holes in the walls of the bathroom, the bedroom, the kitchen, holes in the walls looking into the apartments of other people. I began to realize I wasn’t safe here, and to question my memories of life in the apartment. Had anyone crept in and stolen things? Who were these strangers I lived with? Were they eating my food? Why wasn’t I aware of all these HOLES?!
In reality, my apartment is pretty unique. It’s one of four in a divided house, built over 100 years ago. I don’t live in (nor will I ever) a cookie cutter set of rooms exactly like 10 others. My apartment has studio space, cats, and a reading chair with a fluffy rug. I did find a mysterious hole once, behind the dryer, but I covered it up with a paper plate and some duct tape.
(click to enlarge images)
So what prompted this pretty dream turned dreadful? If you knew me well, you’d know I rarely close my eyes without having a nightmare. Last Christmas my sister bought me a book with 20,000 dream definitions, which I consult occasionally for a bit of insight. It’s not that I take these words as fact, but it’s interesting to find out how Freud or Jung would analyze my subconscious.
I’ll spare you the text and sum up the way the book allows me to interpret this dream—which is actually similar to how I interpret my paintings of homes.
The home equals me, my mind, my life. The bathroom, which I recall in such detail, represents my “instinctual urges,” and dreaming of it says I'm experiencing oppressive feelings which need to be released. That makes sense. Denying urges only makes them stronger, right?
Doors obviously mean options, and facing a confusing number of doors says life’s choices are overwhelming. Broken doors indicate vulnerability or lack of privacy, and inability to maintain boundaries. Check, check, check.
The vulnerability theme is common for my sleeping mind. For as long as I can remember, I’ve dreamt of broken locks and physical struggles to keep bad men from getting inside my home or hurting my family. Things usually get violent, and often my teeth are involved. Dreaming Molly has repeatedly lost teeth to punches in the face, but give her some credit—she has used them to fight back. One particularly vivid nightmare (please don’t call the psych ward) involved me biting off the pinky of a man trying to pry his way into my car—it was quite comparable to biting through a baby carrot.
In these dreams, when I notice my teeth are loose or crumbling, everyone seems to think it’s just fine. I can be bleeding profusely and holding all my teeth in my hands and still have to find my own damn dentist. The dentists I do get to help always stitch my teeth back in the wrong places, molars in front and canines in back.
The book gives plenty of advice on losing teeth. Insecurity, inadequacy, the need to admit a secret in waking life, big changes or losses and damage to beliefs, blah blah blah.
I'm learning to be patient. I have to be. Changes can't happen as quickly as I'd like them to, and that's probably a good thing. However, paintings can happen as quickly and as often as I want. Eat that, nightmares.
Each morning my alarm goes off at 7 am. I press the snooze twice. If it’s a particularly blah day, I press it a third time. At 7:15, I feed the two furry beasts. I stand in the steaming shower until my skin is bright red, inhaling the coconut scent of my shampoo (insert tropical vacation daydream). I read while I eat breakfast. I listen to the news on my way to work.
At the American Gothic House Center I’m in contact with volunteers daily: somebody scheduled to help out for a few hours in the gift shop or just checking in. Most of the time, these people are on their way to volunteering somewhere else. They’re retired and busier than ever, committed to restoring historic sites, developing programs for the community like SHARE or senior meals, visiting friends who can’t leave home or headed to a meeting of committee X Y or Z.
One eight hour day later, I get in my car and plug in my iPod. I turn the volume up as high as I can stand it and hope the good people of Eldon don’t judge what they see—eyes squinted nearly shut, mouth open wide, singing and dancing around in the front seat like a maniac on my way out of town.
I turn off the car, unlock my back door, and am greeted by those two nuisances. I feed them again. I open my computer and make dinner for myself—probably spinach salad with almonds, craisins and tomato basil feta. Maybe salmon or mandarin oranges on top if I’m feeling frisky. I read while I eat.
Then, I have the choices. Practice yoga? Do something to further my artistic career? Rest my brain in front of a screen, clean my apartment, go for a walk, keep in touch with friends and family. If I’m lucky, I might do two of those things with my 4 free hours before bed. Am I attending committee meetings? Not unless I’m on the clock. Do I mow lawn or shovel sidewalks? Nope. What, exactly, am I handing back to the communities I live and work in?
I feel guilty that I’m being paid to further a cause which so many people (about 30, as it turns out) are willing to give away their time for. And I certainly don’t give my free time away. I use it up on myself. I am alone in my apartment, making paintings no one has seen or will see for months. It is a completely selfish act.
Right now, for instance, I’m working on two pieces. This one, still unfinished, started as a way to confront one of my (many) recurring nightmares—losing my teeth. Maybe now it’s about aging, or secrets, or whatever. The meaning changes daily. But is it meaningful to anyone other than me?
And this one, becoming a plaid washing machine with a seashell inside—what good are all these colors and marks doing for the world?
So here I am, wishing to spend more time painting, thinking about graduate school and becoming a professor so that I can surround myself with art, while the people around me give hours and hours to improving their communities and getting their hands dirty to help their neighbors. I can see them out my window if I peek around my oh-so-personal painting of a bathroom, which may or may not be useful even to me.
I asked my writer friend whether she ever feels selfish in her work. She responded with stories of relationships she’s developed with strangers who have felt a connection to her through her blog. She pointed at a painting of a sunflower done by her sister and said, “That painting makes me happy every time I look at it!”
I started writing here with the hope that maybe the right person will read my words and find relevance to their own life. I made a website so that someone, anyone, might see what I’m doing and might hear it speak. In the mean time, I guess I’m just painting because it makes me happy. That’s going to have to be good enough.
About the Artist Molly Moser currently resides in Des Moines, Iowa, where she finds lots to love in the people, the cultural events, bike trails, water, and farmer's markets. She continues to study art and to paint, draw, and take photos. Molly hopes to move west to attend graduate school.
Molly’s paintings explore the relationships, emotions and interactions that occur between families, friends and partners, humans and nature. She creates interior spaces to tell these stories through the personal objects they contain.