Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Rising Tide - Infringement and Evolution of an Idea

Have you ever had an idea just hit you?  For me, it seems to happen while in the car (or less conveniently, right before I am about to fall asleep).  I really enjoy long road trips because of this phenomenon.  I find my mind is focused yet wandering freely.  This spring, I had one of those long road trips to head up north to help my mother through a surgery.  I was looking forward to the time alone on the road as I was hoping for a few good ideas to rise to the top.  And indeed many ideas came.  One in fact hit me so viscerally, I found my cheeks wet with tears, so moved by the image in my own head.  

You see, not only was I trying to sort out ideas for potential works of art, but also my mind was trying to sort out general life stuff too.  I have a friend, who at the time was in such a deep, dark, depressive place.  I had been watching her sink further and further into this pit and I felt powerless - I very much wished I could save her.  But I realized in that solitary moment, speeding along the freeway, that everything that I had been doing, that I thought was helping may have actually been enabling the depression further.  In that moment, I realized that she herself must first want to stop the sinking.  It was a hard realization because in a sense it meant that I was letting go.  And what if she just free-fell further?  With all those thoughts came an image.  An image so strong, so powerful and so clear.  I felt so much relief in that image.  It so well articulated the conundrum in which I found myself.  Later I was so proud of this image, this flash in my mind's eye, that I started to describe it to artist friends.  They agreed that it was a very powerful image and would make a hell of a painting.  I couldn't wait to get to the studio, to hire models and get moving on the painting before that flash faded.

I spent several weeks with two hired models (a splurge!), working out compositional drawings and starting the underpainting for what was going to be a break through piece for me.  I had so much energy and enthusiasm.  And it was going well.  Surprisingly, the image with difficult poses was actually physically possible for the models to hold and it was all coming together.  I decided this painting would be one that I would include in an important exhibition whose deadline was fast approaching.  At this time, I was also teaching two workshops which needed my attention. I begrudgingly took time away from the easel, looking though all my teaching materials, trying to organize hand outs for the students when in the back of one of my binders I saw an image.  It was my image... but wait... how?... wait no... that's not my paint.  What the hell?!  Oh no.  

Back when I was a student myself, one of my professors had recommended that I look at an artist's work and she handed me a printout of one of the artist's paintings.  I hadn't seen that image for fifteen years, and yet here my brain had leached it out and let me believe it was my own this whole time?!  I instantly hated myself.  But I still loved the image.  The peace that it had brought me in dealing with my friend was so palpable.  After much wrestling and yes, more crying, it became clear that I couldn't continue with the painting.  I tortured myself - questing all that I am, spiraling into my own depths.  But my response to my friend's situation was still an honest jumping off point.  I could still use those feelings as a place to find a new image.  It was heartbreaking to give up on this thing that had become so real, so empowering for me but it was so very necessary to let it go, lest I perpetually hate myself and this work. 

I took a break from the models and went back to writing and sketching to gather my thoughts.  From this kernel of an idea, came what I hope is an even more potent image.  More potent perhaps because it includes only one figure.  I realized that the other figure (that was to symbolize myself in the relationship) was not necessary and in fact may have been muddying up the idea by adding an element of my own hero complex or narcissism at the least.  Also water crept into this new image as a force of both benevolence as well as potential harm.  I loved that duality.  This painting came fast, on it's own new and bigger, untainted panel.  I re-hired one of the original models and worked it all out in about three weeks.  

Rising Tide depicts a woman lying on her back in shallow water.  She is at that moment of choice.  Is she going to pull on the red cloth (which comes in from an unknown source at the top) to be able to easily rise out of the waters?  Will she let the tide slowly rise to consume her, or will she simply let go?  I also had the aphorism "A rising tide lifts all boats" in mind while working on this painting.  I find this aphorism very apt since this painting was going into this year's Women Painting Women exhibition at Principle Gallery.  I do believe that all the efforts that we have been making through Women Painting Women has had a great impact - in a sense raising the awareness for all great figurative painting and certainly raising the level of recognition for women figurative painters.         

Rising Tide, oil on panel, 34" x 54" 2013

Rising Tide, detail
This painting was featured on the cover of the WPW: (R)evolution exhibition catalog which can be purchased HERE.  Thank you to Matter Deep Publishing for the honor!


  1. Thank you Alia for putting yourself out there. This is a beautifully written piece about a feeling I think we've all had as artists at some point. I happen to know the feeling myself…when you google Chicks with Balls, you get a whole boatload of crap (and porn) that has visual similarities to my project, but I thought of it on my own and the concept behind it takes it in a completely different direction.

    I think no idea is truly original, and yet, every idea is original at the same time…if that makes sense. When you take an existing ball and run with it, you make it your own, something about standing on the shoulders of giants. I'd love to see the abandoned painting, and the old master that it was subconsciously inspired by, I'm thinking there's another good painting there just waiting for you to paint it.

    Judy Takács

  2. so beautifully expressed on all levels, Alia.

  3. Hi Alia,
    A really heart-felt piece. Part of the danger here, as you note, is that a lot of our borrowing and being influenced happens on a semi-conscious or subconscious level. This is why, when writing papers, I don't paraphrase in my notes anymore, but rather take down direct quotes (then I won't accidentally re-phrase back into the original phrasing without quotation marks). But it is so much more difficult to prevent this visually! Thanks for writing about this.

    1. Yes much harder to give credit if you are going to quote visually. Krista, I'd love to know what you are researching/ writing these days. I only know you as a painter so it's fun to find another lover of words. :)

  4. Alia, thank you so very much for sharing your thought processes behind this painting.

  5. Alia-thank you for sharing your profound inspiration behind this painting and your process--both of which are fascinating to me. It truly is an impactful painting in person. It was definitely one of my favorites from the WPW show. For me there is another aligned interpretation one could read into your narrative, that of a ritual cleansing or anointment shared in many religions such as the Christian practice of baptism and Hindus bathing in the Ganges river. Both rituals are about washing away sins and bad decisions and being reborn in a purer state. And even the gesture your model shows of falling backwards into the water is considered to be an act of faith and acceptance in baptisms performed in "moving waters" such as rivers & lakes. I would imagine a severely depressed person would be searching for such a rebirth or fresh start from the circumstances they find themselves in. Great art makes one sympathize with the subject and you have most definitely done that for me here. Bravo Alia! Bravo!

  6. Wowza! Thank you all for taking the time to comment. The artist who's work I had unintentionally emulated is a contemporary artist not an old master. Her name is Haneline Rogeberg. Her work has changed drastically, but then her works were incredibly powerful, psychologically charged figurative paintings.

    Susan, I knew that the red cloth coming in essentially from the sky (heavens) could be seen in a spiritual light. Thank you for sharing your "read" of the work.