I turned 33 at the end of last year. Thirty-three was a big year for me, for my art. I completed 9 pieces and celebrated by throwing an Art Naming and Wine Tasting party. My husband and I had traveled to San Fransico and Napa Valley (California) for our 6th year anniversary/welcome home/reconnect trip last year. That trip inspired the wine tasting part. Art and wine go well together because wine makers take the art of making wine very seriously. Each one has its unique style and process variation that influences the final "creation." I wasn't aware of how intimate the process was until we toured those wineries.
Out of the 9 pieces I had completed, my husband and I had only named two. That's right, I let my husband help name my work! When we first got married I was preparing for a solo show that shared my journey from one name to another ( EAS, my maiden name, to EAW). We were newlyweds and he was a newbie to art as well. Getting ready for a show takes a lot of time, so in an attempt to invite him into my process, I asked if he would like to help me name my finished pieces. Naming is an important part of my process. I use it as one more layer of information for the viewer. I like to make it autobiographical, which means the name correlates with what was going on with my life when I made the piece. We also take into account what feelings/words the painting evokes when looking at it.
Therefore opening the naming process up to many people (on my birthday) was a....
beyond my comfort zone.
For the party, we turned our living room, dining room, and kitchen into a gallery . All family photos and non-EAW art were removed to make room for the nine pieces. We had quite the spread of fancy snacks to pair with some wines.
Our guests also brought their favorite bottle of wine to share. As people trickled in, we directed them to read our posted directions for the night, printed on bright yellow card stock. The main event was NAMING the artwork. There was also an option for the viewers to give their first impression using just one word, voting for the favorite piece, and a blind contour contest. The winner of the blind contour contest would get their drawing incorporated into my next painting.
To submit a name idea, our guests simply wrote the name on a post it note and stuck it beside the piece. We had a set time to read all the submissions aloud and then I picked the name on the spot. That felt a bit crazy. I hadn't fully decided beforehand, so it really came down to what struck me the most in the moment. I usually don't like to be put on the spot, but it was a fun and relaxed atmosphere. I even verbally processed through the decisions a bit, letting our friends know some of the other names that were in the running. Out of the 7 pieces that had name submissions, we chose 4 definite names and 3 tentative. In the future, I would like to be able to get this work into a gallery type setting and we would like the gallery patrons to also vote for the best name based on birthday submissions. I’m still considering how to make this happen. The name submissions were anonymous at the party, but it turned out that both paintings with blind contours of guns were named by soldiers. The others, interestingly, were not.
It is April now and I am happy to announce that I have finished the birthday contest piece (as promised). But I could not pick just ONE. There were so many inspiring blind contours. As I began to choose, I realized that the ones I was most drawn to belonged to the soldiers. So my newest piece, yet to be named, has 4 different blind contours from 4 soldiers.
At the party, #7 (Ballistic Neon) won first place for most people's favorite, with #2 (Upside of Manic) a close second. I was pleasantly surprised that even the color scheme (possibly being seen as less manly with the pinkish purple) did not deter their votes. When I painted "Ballistic Neon", I realized how ironic it was to make something so dangerous into something beautiful. It was a blend of warrior and my aesthetics. It reminds me of my marriage. A soldier and an artist. I had already been interested in doing more pieces in this style and the popular votes just reinforced my idea. The seed of the "Deployment piece" began to grow as my husband and I reflected on all that transpired that night and as we heard consistent rave reviews when we showed others my new work.
This party was pivotal in how I faced 2016. It was the first time since becoming a mom that I did more than dream about what I wanted to do next with my art. I started researching. I imagined this pitch, with the gallery patrons finishing the job we started that night, by naming the pieces. I remembered a suggestion (to enter ArtPrize) that was given in early 2014. I looked into it. As I researched, it became clear what action to take. I figured out the cost of the piece I was envisioning and then wrote a proposal in order to get a grant or private investor. Before I completed the proposal, there was a potential investor. The funds came in less than a week.
This is exciting! This is bigger than me and my name being known. I am creating this because I am inspired. I am creating this because I think the concept of connection during and after deployment needs to be talked about. I am passionate about helping families get the extra support they need because of these separations.
The Rick Herrema Foundation (RHF) is a non profit named after a soldier that paid the ultimate price, giving his life for freedom in Iraq in April of 2006. “When Rick claimed you as a friend, he was your friend for life; and for the 27 years Rick lived he never stopped serving others.” His name will not be forgotten. His life mattered. And RHF honors his name by making a difference in the lives of families who live through these deployments time and time again. That's why I have decided that all profits, whether prize money or the eventual sale of the "Deployment Piece" will be donated to RHF. This foundation has already seen me through one deployment lending continued support as I visited their community gardens every week to water and pick. My life has been impacted. I have made new friends. That (guilt free and kid-free) California trip I mentioned earlier was made possible with the help of special people I met there. If you, like me, are looking to make a difference in the lives of those who are still fighting for your freedom, and their families, then RHF is the place to donate. Or volunteer your time. Art matters to me. Names matter. Relationships matter. How we spend our lives matters. I'm finding new ways to use my art, and even my process, to make a difference. And you can too. This is a way to say thanks. This foundation provides a way to help those in the fight to keep their dignity as well as a place to connect and reconnect with their loved ones. I invite you to check it out. www.RHFnow.org