Sitting at my table in my studio one day, I was preparing canvases for various paintings that I had in mind to create later that week. Looking over my shoulder as I sketched was the 9 year-old daughter of friends who were in town for spring break. They had just returned from a day of exploring the museums and monuments of downtown Washington, DC, and while the rest of the family rested from their busy day, she wandered into my studio and quietly observed my work, eventually asking questions. So we talked about my process and the ideas I had for different projects.
One of the pieces I was brainstorming was for an upcoming show at the Del Ray Artisans Gallery called “Sacred Feminine”. The curators of this exhibit were looking for artwork that sought to break female stereotypes and unhealthy societal pressures on physical appearance and behaviors, while at the same time celebrating femininity. For this, I wanted to create a piece that featured women in science, and to show that it is feminine to be smart.
So while looking at my mostly-blank canvas with just the hint of two eyes and a nose and outline of forehead that I had lightly sketched onto it, we talked about how I would make the eyes look like galaxies or supernovas or something cool like that. She suggested the rings of Saturn (this girl gets me). I described how I wanted to carve equations in the paint on her forehead, which got a skeptical but-I’ll-humor-you-this-time look from my young friend. She suggested instead I could paint a woman that is balancing motherhood, work, and domestic life, with a baby on her hip and a pot in her hand and thoughts about work swirling above her - representing the many different ways we as women are pulled, and contribute, in family and society. It was an honest and creative conversation that made me think about the importance of communicating these issues in both what I create and how I live my life.
It wasn’t until after they left for home that I was able to paint the piece I had begun with her in the studio. I decided to model the woman’s eyes after the Crab Nebula because of its historical significance, and because it is beautiful. The Crab Nebula formed when a star in the Taurus constellation went supernova. When this happened about a thousand years ago, the exploded star suddenly became visible from Earth and was observed as a new star by ancient Chinese astronomers. Later, after telescopes were invented, it was viewed in more detail, and is listed as the first Messier object (M1) - a famous catalog of astronomical objects. It was tricky painting the Crab Nebula and also making them look like eyeballs, but the intent is there. On her forehead, carved in the paint, are physics and astronomy equations - the tools used to define and characterize the objects we see beyond Earth.
I am very happy with the way this painting turned out. For me, it shows how science, and the effort and awe of understanding our universe, can be a spiritual part of our existence. Happily, too, it was accepted into the “Sacred Feminine” exhibit at the Del Ray Artisans Gallery for May 3 - June 2, 2019.