At the beginning of workshops, Aimone often asks his students why they paint. The most common answer is that the act of painting transports them from their everyday experience into a different world. But some students say they paint because it allows them to tap into a side of themselves that feels genuine.
“This is not just a painting class,” says Audrey Phillips, a professional artist from central Florida who attended the workshop. “It’s a class about discovering who you are.”
Phillips discovered the transformative power of art when her mother was murdered a few years ago in a random act of violence and she decided to deal with her grief by painting portraits of her mother’s convicted killer. But after studying with Aimone, Phillips shifted to abstract painting and uncovered a new way of grappling with the turmoil inside. “You’ll bump against something frustrating in your painting,” she says, “and you’ll see the similarity between your art and your life. And as you resolve those things in your painting, you’ll resolve them in your life. It’s magical.”
I haven’t reached that point yet, but I’m working on it. After the workshop, I told Aimone about my Vermeer-de Kooning conflict. He laughed, and told me that he too had struggled with a similar problem when he started exploring abstract painting. He suggested either keeping the two sides of myself completely separate or finding a way for them to peacefully coexist. I’m taking the second route and so far I’m pleased with what I’ve seen. The portrait of an African American man I’d been working on before the workshop transformed into a much more dynamic painting afterward, influenced, no doubt, by what had happened to me in Asheville.
As for the black-and-red painting, that’s another story. When I returned home with my masterpiece, carefully guarded in a giant mailing tube, I couldn’t wait to show it to Barbara, who, despite her flights of jealousy, is usually enthusiastic about my work. But as I rolled my “explosive,” “powerful” painting out on the living room floor, she looked perplexed.
“Where do you think you’re going to put that thing?” she asked. “It looks like the work of an insane person.”
So now the painting that changed my life hangs in a special place of honor: in the basement, right next to the laundry room.