Artists begin with one question regarding any new creative work. Most might think artists ask themselves, “What should I create?” But the question really needs to be, “Why should I create it?”
Intention. It is the driving force behind any project, plan or goal. Without it there can be no satisfying end result. Without it there is no dialogue with the audience and that is a problem because art is a conversation. Art without intention can leave the viewer feeling lost and scattered because intention is a clear voice from the artist whether one likes the tone and cadence or not.
That is where I started when I began creating the series, “Broken Vessels” a few years ago. Because I know one thing….
Roads, bridges, cars, appliances. It is a constant in life. Then beyond the tangible, there are the fractures that happen in beliefs, contracts, promises, relationships and ideas. Pittsburghers have experienced more fracturing than ever. Politics and bridge structures aside, if we slow down and look inward there is also the intangible. The shattering that goes on beneath the surface of any human being which differs from person to person, but is absolutely universal. You know, the big stuff — Faith, Hope, Trust, Security and even our sense of Beauty and how we see ourselves.
So the simple idea that people break and need to heal is where I began.
The Japanese have a philosophy of life called kintsugi. It started in the 14th century when the emperor broke his favorite teacup. He gave the cup to his artisans to be repaired. You may have seen images of vases or cups that have been filled in with gold in the cracks. This is a kintsugi repair. This treatment not only makes the vessel more beautiful, but also stronger and more valuable for the break. In Japan, they believe this also applies to people.
I have seen it, and I am sure you have seen it too — people walking around with fissures in their sense of hope, peace or well being. We know the physical body can break, but also broken can be our sense of security, spirituality or faith. How does one trust again?
So my intention a few years ago started with just that fact. Things break. And so do we. The body of work includes 12 life-size oil portraits that were created on wooden panels. Each one represents the way that a human being can “break.” Then I cut up each panel. Oh, yes, did I mention? I cut up each painting into pieces with a sabersaw. Slicing through my portraits may sound scary, but it creates stronger images (intention leads the way again). And these portraits are my 12 broken human vessels. Out of the sawdust, each painting is then reassembled and glued back together and each crack is then carefully gold-leafed, “kintsugi-style.”
How valuable is the person who was broken and has now healed. How strong is the heart that overcame a loss of faith or trust. Like glinting, golden lines on a repaired teacup, I believe scars are the golden jewelry that we wear. In my intention to show how universal this breakage is in each human being, each piece has the fibonacci spiral running through each composition. At times we physically break. At times we lose faith. But we all are challenged by the same elements.
And so it is with Pittsburgh, too. We have a lot to offer. We can be an ideal city with ideal people and causes. But we still need to heal. From so many issues. We need to cross over our cracks of repair into the best shining version that our city can be. But it starts with the people in it. Look for that golden glint on your neighbor. It is there and it is the foundation of what makes any city strong.
“Broken Vessels” opens on Oct. 8 starting at 5pm at the Christine Frechard Gallery at 5126 Butler St. in Lawrenceville. Stop by and see yourself as well as your fellow Pittsburghers along the walls. pq
Christine Swann has been designated as a Master portrait painter and she has been creating commissioned portraits for clients for over 30 years. Her work has won awards internationally and has been shown in China, France and Italy. She works at her home studio in Sewickley.