How I Became an Abstract Painter

Girl on Swing original

Book 17-4 gouache on paper 16x12 inches 

A lot of things I learned the hard way in my life, by trial and error.  I may have grown up in a large family, but basically I was always fending for myself.  I think by the time my mother had me, I was an inconvenience at best.  So, I think from an early age I started to #1 fend for myself, and #2 try to justify my existence.  It’s not that I was dropped off in Africa with some gorillas or anything, but quite frankly, that might have been a blessing. 

                             My Parents                 

Book 17-11 2006 gouache on paper 16 x 12 inches              Book 11 - 6 1994 gouache on paper 18 x 14 inches



Book 22-2 2002 gouache on paper 16 x 12 inches              Book 22-9 2002 gouache on paper 18 x 14 inches

When I started to show an interest in art, I had to sort of go it alone.  I always loved “making stuff”.  I remember once decorating the toilet paper and then rollong it back up.   When I started drawing in high school, my mother was less than encouraging. My sister was the artistic one. Apparently I was the smart one, and I was going to be a doctor.  My batik of a New Orleans jazz player was dismissed because I just “copied it”.  Well, that is not exactly true.  I used the outline of a trumpet player from some old poster, then batik-ed it.  When it was chosen to be in the school art show, I felt like a fraud. No one in my family even went to see it.  Apparently my brother’s patchwork giraffe was way more deserving.  (It was pretty great.)  

Trixie Pitts Book 22-1 2002 Gouache

                                              My Red Shoes Book 22-1 2002 oil on canvas 16 x 12 inches

Anyway, I went on to get my degree in Microbiology, but never quite made it into medical school.  But, all that drawing under the microscope of newt ova and potato black rot fungus, and oocyte atresia, seemed to give me an eye for detail and a passion for drawing.  So, after graduating with my Science degree (I had proved I could do it), I promptly abandoned biology, went to art school for a while and never looked back!

Girl on Swing original

                                                   Girl on a Swing 2006 oil on canvas 30 - 40 inches

"Girl on a Swing" is one of my earliest paintings in an (sort of) abstract expressionist style.  I just love it and wouldn't part with it.  I love to sell prints of it though (!  It seems such a sweet loving painting, but with an edge to it.  That's how all my paintings seem to me.  I guess it is innate.

I started out with this idea to paint an image from a dream.  I lightly sketched out the figure, barely there.  All of a sudden I heard my art advisor at the Art Students League, Larry Poons, bellowing, “ Stop drawing and paint."  Then he compared my initial sketch to "the worst painter of all time” who “painted stick figures like yours"!  Hahaha!  I can laugh now but it was brutal.  I was mortified.  It was my first day!  So I just started to go a bit wild with it and now, years later, I just love it!

Then I painted another version, more like my dream memory, "Swinging Girl".  I like it too.  It also has an edge, although you might not notice at a quick glance.  But the swinging girl is reaching down to grab the hand of a drowning little girl.

Swinging Girl*** 2

                                                 Girl on a Swing 2006 oil on canvas 30 - 40 inches

I guess they are both me.  The big me is reaching back to save and love the little me that nearly drowned in all her stuff. I left a hint of the red scarf around her neck, to tie in with the first painting.  This is how painting has saved my life.  You see, the dream was actually pretty horrible and the red had a more sinister presence.  But I really have no desire to paint horror.  Who needs to see more horror.  I paint who I am and what I feel and that is all about resilience and finding your own strength.  

IMG 0008

                                       I’m Okay 2008 oil on canvas 60 x 36 inches (detail)

My "Red Girl, (I’m Okay)" was a bold move for me at the time.  It was selected for a Show that year at the Pen & Brush gallery.

Carrickainga 2015 oil 48x48 inches

                                                Carrickalinga Pier 2014 oil, graphite on canvas 48 x 48 inches

Gradually my work became more and more abstract, until finally a few years ago, I gave up on anything consciously literal.  Abstract Expressionism is now where I can be the most free and the most able to express what I need to. 

IMG 6665

                                                I Am Woman 2014 oil, graphite on canvas 48 x 48 inches

Often I start out one way and end the other.  For "I Am Woman” I started with masses of different pinks.  It was a bit terrifying.  But Larry Poons advised that it’s good to feel terrified when you paint, it means you are doing something real.  Well, it works for me.  Maybe it has to do with the action of overcoming a terrifying situation and creating joy.   

I  love looking at my paintings and thinking about them.  People aske me what were you thinking when you were painting and the answer is that I try not to think about anything.  I like to “Just Do It".  Maybe I should wear Nikes when I paint!

© Trixie Pitts 2009