About Painting Swinging Girl in 2006

Swinging Girl***_2 - Version 2

Swinging Girl  2006  oil on canvas  30 x 40 inches

This was the first painting I did after returning to New York in 2006 and joining The Art Students’ League of New York.  

The first day I joined the abstract painting studio at the ASL in 2006, I brought a 30” x 40” canvas with a loose charcoal sketch I had done at home to use as a basis for painting.  I had had a dream, a very vivid eerie dream of a girl on a swing.  It seemed like it was misty with rain and she was swinging over water.  All I remember is that she had a bright red scarf around her neck, everything else was in shades of black and white.  It was one of those dreams that wakes you up with a start.  At the league, I started to do an underpainting in white and black, to further sketch in my idea.  

No one had spoken to me - except for that incident where I had introduced myself to the advisor, saying I was new and he sneered, “I never would have guessed.”   I had never heard of this guy, but apparently he was some sort of big deal in the abstract painting world in the 60s.  BFD - so that means you have to act like a monster?  He was across the room from me bellowing insults and suggestions with abandon.  Everyone seemed terrified of him.  All of a sudden I heard him bellowing, “There once was a very famous painter that painted stick figures like yours....... (when I heard stick figures I realized he was referring to me) ..... and he was the worst painter of all time.”  Then some of the women in the studio, none of whom had even spoken to me, started trying to guess which worst painter he meant.  I think I have blocked most of it from my memory, but I remember one guessed Modigliani.  What?  Modigliani?  I love Modigliani.  Who would ever categorize him as the worst painter?  I was flabbergasted left and right.  No, the little guy, the venomous dynamo elaborated that he meant Bernard De Buffet.Girl on Swing (charcoal sketch)
                                        Girl on Swing (charcoal sketch)                    Girl on Swing (after haranguing)


Girl on Swing (reworked)                   Girl on Swing (taking shape)

At first I thought he meant Jean DuBuffet and I thought that was okay with me; I really like him, but then I realized he was referring to Bernard DuBuffet.  Surely not. I recalled having recently seen him amongst some lesser known artists at Christies.  He painted with a lot of straight black lines and signed all his paintings in big black letters.  Yuck, he could be one of the worst painters of all time!  Anyway, I was a bit mortified that they were all debating which worst artist my painting reminded them of.  Then Poons came over and started ranting about putting some color on.  Haranguing me really.  I was so rattled, I just squirted out some colors and started putting them on.  It wasn’t what I had in mind.  If this happened now, I would leave the version I did under duress for sure and do a new one.  However, the final version wouldn’t be the way it is if it didn’t have all the bright color underneath it.  Since doing a quick underpainting, often in bright color is sort of a main part of my current process, I guess the whole experience was beneficial.  

The important thing for me at the time though was that I didn’t cave.  I made the painting to express the feeling I had in the dream.    It didn’t end up black and white with the red ribbon but I still feel it expressing something vital from my past.  The girl is reaching down trying to save a drowning child.  On another level, maybe it is a metaphor for how painting has saved me.  Or, how painting has helped me save myself.

originally published: August 18, 2009

© Trixie Pitts 2009