Like Paint Thinner on Canvas: Painting the Fear Away
by J. L. Thurston
The canvas is stretched across the wooden frame. The endless white rectangle awaits a world of possibilities. I love starting a painting. At the beginning, before anything has been touched, I feel the full potential of what this canvas could become. It could be good, it could be bad, it could be heart-wrenching, dramatic, ridiculous, or meaningful. It all depends on my brushstrokes.
I break the purity of the canvas by cracking it with pencil lines. The rough outline looks like nonsense, but there’s a method to the madness. With judicious blots from my paintbrush, I add the first layers of color.
In these early stages, the painting doesn’t look like much. One could go as far as saying it looks terrible. But an experienced artist knows that a painting can look godforsaken awful until the finishing touches. Stick with it, I tell myself. Keep the picture in your mind and continue.
The brush is horse hair. The wooden handle is stained with layers of paint from past projects. Though several years old, the woodsy scent of it is still strong. I love that smell.
My fingers are flecked and slashed with color. I even have paint drying on my cheek, a consequence of habitually putting paintbrushes between my teeth.
Layer after layer, the brush disinters the picture from the depth of my imagination. The bristles scrape across the rough texture of the canvas like an archaeologist gently pushing dirt from a newly discovered artifact.
The painting is not a work of the brush, or a work of my fingers. Some would say a painting is a work of the brain, as that is where an artist keeps their vision while working. I say it comes from the artist’s entire being, and that is probably very cliché. The inspiration rises up from the soul and seeps into the brain and the fingers work to make a physical product close to what has been envisioned.
Some days the final product makes me proud, and some days I wonder where the hell I went wrong. But all I have to do is put in the time, and even if the product isn’t what I wanted, the work itself is rewarding. I don’t work on my art for the approval of others, so a hideous final product isn’t really a letdown to me. I paint because while I sit before that canvas, the entire world feels right. I believe artists like me feel that maybe we’re putting something beautiful into the world or just exercising something beautiful within ourselves.
I’m an ugly person. I’m passive-aggressive, judgmental and short-tempered. I live a life of political worry and uncertainty. I lost my faith in humanity long ago and am ashamed of it. I hate that my world is one where everything, including human rights and equalities, are constantly called into question. I get enraged when people get distracted by differences in gender, sex, race and religion. I’m scared for the future, and I’m scared of the future.
I share a collective sense of powerlessness with the general population when it comes to changing the world. Of course, I’m no genius and have no real answers for what ails our lives, but when true pioneers come along humanity has a long history of destroying their progress. These pioneers are artists that were trying to paint better futures for us.
I’m speaking of artists like Liu Xiaobo, Edith Cavell, Martin Luther King Jr., Irena Sendlerowa. Persecuted scientists like Galileo, Augustin Mouchot (as well as Frank Shuman), 16th century Giordano Bruno, Tesla and Turing. All of these people were artists who offered the world beautiful enlightenment and a better tomorrow. The immutable obstacles in their way were namely greed and fear. These obstacles are like paint thinner on a canvas, and we’re left behind with a dripping brown mess of what could have been.
But while I work on my painting I feel peace. I find hope that maybe one day mankind will learn from history and no longer barricade the next great visionaries who come along. I can say with confidence that I will not be one to hinder them, whoever they may be. I will not impede that artist’s brushstrokes.
It’s a nice thought, but for now I’m just painting. I still have hours of work ahead of me.