Violence, the artist’s eye and focus

I woke up this morning determined to cut the fire out of my painting.  

It’s interesting about that fire.  I had first envisioned a sort of Pandora’s box of evils then moved to threat as a blast.  The blast turned first into a campfire and then into a house fire.  In the meantime the fire has taken over my painting and that was not my intention.  Really I do not even need the object “threat”; I only need the responses to it.

This work in progress is on paper.  I could literally cut the fire out, paste what is left of my original painting onto a clean sheet and keep working.  I could paint white or maybe black over the fire and try again.  OR, and I think this will be my course, I can roll this painting up, put it in a corner and begin again with an entirely new composition.

Frequently for me, in painting en plein air in watercolor the first several pieces in a given location serve to focus my eye and mind on exactly what it is about the scene that really attracts me and finally to produce a painting that nails an angle, shape, or shadow. I feel this present effort, of many days, has focused my mind on exactly what I am trying to express.  It is not the threat itself; I am trying to paint the resulting revulsion, hurt, terror on the figure.  I do not need the “threat” in my painting at all.  It could never be an adequate representation of something that in reality takes so many different forms.

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3 Responses to

  1. Ann Zerkel says:

    Your rationale for omitting the fire and focusing on the responses of the victim(s) makes sense to me; as a non-painter I’m a bit amazed to realize that your process includes an elliptical compression of themes, a mental / emotional composing that seems similar to what writers do.
    Your immersion into violence- your determination to visualize and portray its victims-interests me even more. I wonder what interior discipline allows anyone to push the boundaries of imagination and experience so far.

    • alixhtravis says:


      I wish I could respond in the erudite manner of your comment, but I am the artist not the wordsmith. You are not the first writer I have had comment on some of the similar processes employed by both visual artists and writers. After all, we are both “artists“. Exaggerating to make a point, “it’s not a photograph; it’s a painting”, etc. Of course we revise; I think what may be different and has made me a little uncomfortable is to be doing it so publicly! I would not have been doing that without modern computer technology. I had been debating whether I should remove the initial entry and the accompanying photos when your comment showed up.

      Now, I am so glad I left the entry because you have touched on what has been a new experience for me. I have never seen myself as a painter with a “message”. Yet, I had never felt a call to paint a given subject so strongly as I described when my mind’s eye kept converting happy, joyous figures into the figures distorted with pain and suffering that I would put on my page. What will become of the compulsion? I do not know when or if it will surface again.

      I turn the question on you. What makes an author write tragedy? Why would any creative person want to spend so much time with it?

  2. Ann Zerkel says:

    Oh, my. I posed my own question about interior discipline in true curiosity, supposing that perhaps a strong habit of spiritual meditation, an awareness of the interconnectedness of all being, promotes or nurtures an imagination that can “see” suffering on the other side of the world. It’s a leap I haven’t yet made.
    Now you throw me “tragedy.” My undergrad classical definition of tragedy says that the universe has been thrown out of balance – humans have mucked it up- and order can only be restored through suffering. Thinking of modernist tragedies – Samuel Becket’s plays, Kafka’s fiction, even Arthur Miller’s Willy Loman- the author seems unable to view the universe as anything but empty, godless and irrational, while human values disintegrate rapidly and human behavior is increasingly cruel, even random. So the work of writing tragedy might be seen as a lament, a protest, a cry for help or a call for reform. For Becket I suspect it was the need to express “what is.”

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