Animals living in areas where cold is a seasonal norm survive using a broad set of adaptive mechanisms. They insulate, hibernate, store food, synthesize anti-freeze in their circulatory systems. They pupate. They gather together for warmth. They prey on those weakened by winter's harshness. They store fat to burn during leanest times.
As a painter, these cold days I'm thinking about survival via the power of adaptation. Broadly speaking, to adapt means making adjustments to meet variable conditions or situations. Because I work without expectation or subject, and not from drawings, photos, or sketches, painting an oversized canvas is a strange exercise in adaptation based on experience.
Abstract expressionism in process, my painting is physical, emotional, immediate, and unpredictable. When it's going well, it feels wild. Every brushstroke creates a new path, to which whatever follows will totally adjust. Sometimes the whole thing goes kerflooey. If it doesn't go kerflooey once in awhile, I know I'm not pushing my boundaries. So kerflooey is good.
I'm well-aware that painting is not a matter of life and death in the larger world. It's not saving the life of a gunshot victim. It's not fighting fire, or being a foster parent to traumatized teens. But even after decades of practice, painting continues to teach me new things. In incremental measures of letting go, facing fear, asking questions, messing up, and making new things, I find joy. Painting helps me be a positive presence in a world that can feel pretty dim.
I am one lucky human animal in the middle of this cold northern winter.
Artist and naturalist Michelle Louis has a vigorous curiosity about the natural world. Her abstract landscape paintings cultivate connection to the lands she explores.
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