I have to tell you—-every time I sit down to put something together for Muddy Colors, I am always humbled. Humbled not only by the amazing contributors that reside here and their fantastic creations, but by all of you who come to visit. I feel it a pretty weighty burden to try to pull together thoughts and artwork that might be meaningful to you. I use the word burden here not with it’s negative, perhaps even painful, undertone, but more along the lines of a serious responsibility.

Call me crazy, but that’s also how I view creating artwork. Sure, I love what I do. It’s an emotional release; it’s an outlet for expression; and yeah, it’s sometimes a silly, playful way to simply pass the time. And thank goodness it also pays the bills. Maybe I’m just getting old and the years are catching up with me, but as time passes, I’ve come to realize that I want my artwork to be more than that now. I beg forgiveness for my sentimentality.

No, I don’t really care to go down in some artistic hall of fame. I’m also pretty sure that after I die, I’m no going to be caring much whether or not my death makes my artwork more famous or valuable. But what I do care about is whether or not what I’ve spent a good portion of my life doing makes the world a better place because of its existence. That’s one serious burden…. in a good way.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot since finishing my last major painting, I Am. In fact, the entire painting revolves around that idea, and so I’ve chosen to share it on this platform.

The idea for I Am was spawned by a conversation I had with my teen daughters. They had gone to see a movie (some superhero flick, I believe) and had come away a bit disenchanted with the main female protagonist. It seemed, according to what my daughters gleaned from the character, that the only thing that made a “woman” was the ability to kick butt and be sexy. What ensued was a discussion on how narrow and distorted that is and furthermore, what truly makes us who we are. It took a serious bout of introspection and a struggle with an episode of my own of self doubt to come to a place where the painting of I Am was the result.

In fact, it was during this struggle that I pulled out a piece of paper and literally listed all of the things I felt confident answering—both strengths and weaknesses—under the heading “I am…”. I tacked the paper to the wall by my computer so I could refer to it often to reassure myself that I had more value than the one-dimensional perspective that is often taken by the world around me. But the strength I drew from it could only go so far…. unless I chose to do something with it.

Hence, the birth of a painting.

From those initial notes, the elements of I Am were born and came together in a piece which, I believe, is a reflection of each one of us in an individual way, to some degree or another, and yet offers hope of finding greater attributes within ourselves besides that shallow perspective I spoke of earlier. It was my hope then and still is now that the painting goes beyond my own self-realization and instead helps others find more in themselves as well. That is all I would wish for any of my paintings. So here you go…

The symbolism…

I Am… Burdened.
⁃ The basket on the central figure’s back represents the burdens that we carry; the burden of time (the hourglass), the burden of knowledge (the books), the burden of other responsibilities (the keys), the burden of culture (the beads and shells—pulled from the Kenyan culture of the woman), as well as all of the other smaller things we burden ourselves with (the other small packages tucked in the basket). The nest, with the delicate eggs nestled in it is also a part of that burden, representing those who are in our care. The word “burden” has an inherently negative connotation, and while that certainly may be true for some of the things we are burdened with, the items shown here fall more along the lines of heavy responsibilities with which we must, but yet at the same time often desire to carry.

I Am… Blessed.
⁃ The wings in this painting are symbolic of being blessed, even while burdened. Blessed with the ability to be lifted while carrying that load, to make it lighter, bearable, and even enjoyable.

I Am… Insecure.
⁃ Unlike many of my other angel characters, this woman is not in a bold or confident pose, indicating her insecurities and perhaps self-doubts.

I Am… Fierce.
⁃ Albeit she is insecure, she is also a warrior, a fighter and she has strength beyond her own, represented here in the armor she wears.

I Am… Faithful.
⁃ The light held in her hand is symbolic of her faith, an undying light that she courageously shares with the world.

I Am… Willing to Sacrifice.
⁃ The red band around her arm (like all of the other red items in the other angel paintings) represents the sacrifices she is willing to make for truth,
love and light.

I Am… A Product of My Environment.
⁃ To some degree, we are all a product of our environment, and this is here shown in the textures and elements included in her costume. The collar around her neck was referenced from some spectacular, exotic mushrooms, the under skirt is a blend of reptilian scales and sea grass, and so on.

I Am… Imperfect.
⁃ The woman’s over skirt is, in part, shredded and failing, yet…

I Am… Divine.
⁃ Even with all of our imperfections, I believe that there is a little bit of the divine in all of us, here indicated by the gold halo about the figure’s head.

The last element of the painting is what brings this post full circle—back to the reason why I want to create artwork.

I Am… My Legacy.
⁃ The dragon intently situated behind the angel figure is symbolic of the part of us, the “I am” that goes beyond our physical selves. It represents the things we do, the things we say and the things we create that take on a life of their own, a heartbeat and wings that carry it outside of our reach, either for good or evil. It is our legacy, of sorts, and has an effect on the world around us far beyond our grasp to change it.

When I first began creating art, I never thought to ask myself the reasons why I created what I did. It was enough to find satisfaction in the process, to please an audience or to earn a few dollars. Now, on the other hand, that question seems to dominate everything I do. It’s a bit of a challenge, but I love creating all the more because of it.