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Posts from the ‘Art Stuff’ Category

Spanglish, and other parts of summer.

FINAL Spanglish

I told you (I promised!) I’ve been working on some happier paintings this week. This one is a few days old, but it makes me really happy so I wanted to post it. It’s about my dear friend E. For those of you who may have just started reading, E is a 20-something girl I met during my internship with the Hope House, a shelter for victims of sex trafficking. We spent the whole summer together. I mean seriously, 24/7.

When I first showed up at the Hope House, I was scared. I was a stranger, an intruder with a paintbrush saying “hey, tell me about your lives!” with a smile on my face, as if I understood anything about what it means to be trafficked. That’s what I felt like, anyway. I thought the girls would hate me for taking advantage of their stories and using them for a school project, as if they were a zoo exhibit. It sounds dramatic, but seriously guys, I was scared! I didn’t know what to say or how to act. (Common sense would have said “Act normal! Be nice!”)

So I tried being nice. I played their favorite songs really loud in the car with the windows down. I laughed and teased and joked. I sympathized with their frustrations and I made distractions to keep them occupied and enjoying life. And then, one day we were driving home from Walmart when E looked over at me and said, “Kyle, we’re friends now. We speak Spanglish here.”

I’ve never felt so happy to be accepted. I was like a middle school kid getting invited to a party. As a Spanish major, I’ve learned that language is deeply personal. When you speak someone’s language, you are saying, “I identify with your culture.” A white girl walking around speaking Spanish like she owns it can seem really insensitive. When E invited me to speak Spanish (or Spanglish, at least), she was inviting me to participate in her inner world. She essentially said, “Hey, you are one of my people. I identify with you.” It. was. awesome.

And then we went on to have tons of adventures all summer long. And we lived happily ever after, except for now I have the privilege of missing her a lot. But hey, sometimes that’s enough.



Trafficking in America

FINAL America

This painting was inspired by an atlas I found in a dumpster. (What was I doing in a dumpster? Sorry, you’ll have to just use your imagination on that one. It wasn’t as gross or crazy as you think.) It was a world atlas, with detailed maps of exotic places. I don’t know if it’s just me, but it seems that we’re always drawn to the exotic. Strange lands with diverse cultures and foreign languages are always just a plane ride away. Tons of friends (myself included) have ventured out to such exciting places for missions trips and service projects. Every summer, one friend or another comes back from a service trip to Tennessee or West Virginia or some other vanilla-flavored location. “Oh, that’s cool,” I usually mumble half-heartedly. What is it about caring for people in America that seems so… boring?

The issue comes up a lot in reference to sex trafficking. Friends have gone off to visit Cambodia, India, Mexico, or the Philippines and serve trafficked girls there. Now don’t hear me wrong; those projects are important and the people there are valuable. Those girls need the assistance; statistics suggest that trafficking is highly concentrated in those areas. It’s just that sometimes we fail to realize there are girls in Denver and Phoenix and even Indianapolis who need the same help. It’s not only an “over there” problem; it’s also a problem where we live.

As for the painting, I wanted it to be almost pretty. I chose the cute cursive fonts and patriotic colors to show the contradiction between “the land of the free” and the lives of the not so free girls I met over the summer. This week I am focusing on more positive subjects, however; I promise more lighthearted things are coming!


Prussian blue

You think you know me
My sister’s name is Mallory. Biologically speaking, she’s four years younger than me, but we might as well have been twins. She’s the other half of my heart; we understand each other without having to speak. Maybe that happens to everyone who shares a room for all of childhood. I don’t actually know how it happened, but we share a brain.

She has seen my art journals from the very beginning (it was an ugly beginning.) Once, I finished a painting and showed it to her. She blinked and said, “They all look the same. You like Prussian Blue too much.” Prussian Blue is my jam. It’s shockingly deep and rich. It’s the little watercolor tube that ends up empty first. I squeeze it to death like an empty tube of toothpaste, trying to eek out one more glob of gunk. I looked at the painting she had criticized, and vowed to break up with Prussian Blue.

It didn’t happen. Prussian Blue is the boyfriend I keep running back to, no matter how many times we break up. Thanks to Mal, I vowed to go easy on the Prussian Blue when I started this project. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t. I am proud to say there is not one drop of Prussian Blue (or any blue!) on this page.

This painting is about trafficking survivors who attempt to leave prostitution. One challenge of creating a new life is being faced with your old identity. Many girls hear things like, “You’re just a slut.” “You’ll never succeed.” “Don’t hang out with that girl; she’s trashy.” “What a ho.” It is all too tragic; I wish they knew they are offered a fresh start:

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come!” 2 Corinthians 5:17

My little sister is the bomb, even when she makes fun of my Prussian Blue.


This is a little bit stylistically unusual for me (especially the two faces), but I think it needed to be. How does one paint a mother’s abuse?


This is a little bit stylistically unusual for me (especially the two faces), but I think it needed to be. How does one paint a mother’s abuse?

This is a little bit stylistically unusual for me (especially the two faces), but I think it needed to be. How does one paint a mother’s abuse?

I’ve been painting quite a lot recently. Someone opened the flood gates and suddenly I have a lot to say. I find myself awake at unusual hours because I badly need to finish before an idea is gone. Some days I am frazzled because I forgot to sleep enough, but it’s mostly just exciting with a little exhaustion on the side.

This page is called “Mother.” I’m not going to elaborate much because the circumstances deserve to remain mysterious and broken. It is the story of a girl whose mother turned the other way while the girl was raped by family members and then sold to another man. The pain of the physical abuse was sometimes overwhelming, yet her mother’s abuse was worse in some ways because it stemmed from intentional neglect. Many trafficked girls come from broken families without parental support. I pray they will find all the love, encouragement, and healing they need in their heavenly Father whose heart breaks with their own.



Wings in a jar

I’ve been working up a storm recently. You can see one of the results of that storm above. It feels rich and lovely, doesn’t it? The birds are singing, the sun has come out, and my paintbrush has been a dear friend again. Art is like that. Some days, the inspiration is there. Sometimes it’s not, and then the question is whether you keep plowing through or burn your failures and just give up.

When I was growing up, my dad was a high school art teacher. On Christmas break, when the high school was empty, my dad would pack us all in the family minivan and we’d have the place to ourselves. He’d unlock the gym and pull out some basketballs for my brothers, and then take me down to the art room where he taught. We made all kinds of stuff in there. My favorite thing to do was build sloppy little sculptures out of clay. When I got older, he taught me how to throw pottery on a wheel. I remember watching him pull and push the spinning mound of clay into beautiful shapes he’d bring home to my mom to be displayed in our home. The first time I successfully managed to pull together something that might sort of pass as pottery, I happily looked up and waited for his approval. That’s when he came over and smooshed it into a crumpled lump.

…Wait, what?

Yup, he destroyed it. Then he said something like, “Good job. Try again.” I sat there and stared as the ruined lumpy mess went around and around. It was a small miracle I had managed to pull a shape out of that glob of grayish brain matter. How in the world was I supposed to do it again? It wasn’t exactly the perfect warm fuzzy ending to the cute anecdote from my childhood. Now, don’t get all worked up. My dad’s not a ruthless barbarian who derives his joy from his children’s pain. He was helping me. He was teaching me one of the most valuable lessons I picked up in that art room: “Don’t fall in love with your first idea.”

First ideas are rough. They are (in my case) lopsided and they tend to be incomplete. Excellent work usually comes from several attempts at the same idea. You get better at it the second time, because you get a chance to work out the kinks. You get a little bolder, a little braver, a little more ambitious every time. The lesson wasn’t, “Your work stinks.” The lesson was, “Don’t fall in love with your first idea, because you’ll miss out on your best idea.”

I know it doesn’t look like much, but I’ve been working on the piece you see above for almost 6 months now. Some pages are marvelous. They fall in your lap and come out in a storm of creativity. Others require a long, frustrating, laborious process. This piece is definitely in the second category. I’m going to do something I never do: allow you see my failed work. Below are the first  two drafts. I dislike them both for various reasons, but I show them to you so you can see what the process of painting looks like. The explanation behind the work will come later. Today is just about persistence, and the sweet relief that comes with hard-earned success. P.s. I love you, Dad.

First attempt: March 2012. This one was simply too pretty for the story that goes with it. It didn’t sit well with me.

Second attempt: July 2012. I wanted to play with the collage of geometric shapes you see in the bottom right corner. That was about the only success in this painting. The rest is disjointed. I disliked it even more than the first.

A heart in five pieces

A miracle happened this week: I put some paint on the page and didn’t totally hate it. (Maybe by now, you forgot I’m supposed to be making some art. If you’re confused, you should probably check out the About this blog. page) You can have a look if you want:

Heart in five pieces

Hers is just a heart in five pieces.

“Um, cool. What the heck is that supposed to mean?” you ask. Or at least, you might ask it. I don’t know. Artsy things can be vague and they don’t always make sense. The art I am making is like a journal. Each page is a small part of a larger story. On its own, it only holds a clue. In the context of several pages, my goal is that you will start to learn piece by piece about the girls. Hers is just a heart in five pieces. It’s a clue– a small piece of a life.

This page refers to an issue I have seen in more than one trafficking victim: Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID). You may have heard it called by its former name, Multiple Personality Disorder. DID is classified by the American Psychological Association as, “the presence of two or more distinct identities or personality states (each with its own relatively enduring pattern of perceiving, relating to, and thinking about the environment and the self).” More simply, individuals with DID have at least one alternate identity. This goes beyond the different personalities we all experience. You might put on a more professional face for work, and save the “real you” for home. That’s normal. Individuals with DID experience something far more developed than that; they acquire personalities with different names, genders, ages, races, memories, and core personalities.

The most common model suggests that DID is something like a form of post-traumatic stress disorder. In this model, DID is response that occurs after a tremendous amount of long-term abuse in childhood, especially sexual abuse. Children will compartmentalize in an effort to repress memories. As children acquire and repress a large number of distressing memories, they eventually develop into distinct, alternate personalities. Research indicates that individuals with DID have an average history of 2 intensely traumatic experiences per week, for at least 50 weeks a year, for a duration of 10 years.

That’s a lot of abuse. It is worth noting that there is some controversy about the existence and proper diagnosis of DID. What we do know is that there are a lot of victims of trafficking that follow the above model, whether you want to call it DID or something else. The aftermath of extended abuse is terrible. Sometimes the abuse goes beyond physical damage– psychological scars like DID can be left for years. I met a girl who suffered from DID and had five distinct personalities. They each had different names, ages, and personalities. Sometimes, she didn’t even know who she was. Hers is just a heart in five pieces.


*Information about DID has been taken from a 2009 South African Journal of Psychology article titled “Defending a Diagnostic Pariah: Validating the Categorisation of Dissociative Identity Disorder,” by Craig M. Taub

stage fright.

Well, here’s a confession for you. (I can hear my professors groaning already.)

Here I am, 500 miles from home, 6 weeks into an internship that is ideally supposed to lead to a mass creation of artwork through which I can express a whole lot of thoughts and feelings about human trafficking… and I have nothing to show for it.

Literally, nothing.

Last semester I read a whole bunch of books and articles and watched a whole bunch of documentaries  and learned a lot of stuff about human trafficking. It was all very heartbreaking, but there were some inspiring stories among the wreckage. I was moved to tears more than once. I used to think I was too emotionally stable for frequent bouts of crying. No crying at movies, no crying at books. (Seriously, I’m stone cold. The Notebook has nothing on me.) However, I think last semester sort of ruined that reputation. More than once, a resident stopped by my door to ask why I was sobbing all over my laptop. I thought, “Lovely. All of these stories and emotions are going to turn out some fine artwork.” Because normally that’s how I put them to use. So when I got to NC, one of the first things I did was unpack my art supplies and set up shop. Only I haven’t touched them since.

(Believe me, I tried. I have several half-finished attempts to put something on paper, but none of it will stick!) I guess I feel a responsibility to do justice to all the stories and emotions. Before I was reading about strangers’ experiences, but these are girls I have met. The stuff I’m trying to paint isn’t at all poetic or beautiful, so why am I trying to make it poetic and beautiful? I’m not sure where to put it all. It’s just ugly. I want it to stay ugly and forgotten.

I have a mild case of stage fright. I know the only way to go is forward: start drawing, sketching, writing some words. The answers will come. I just thought it was worth noting the overwhelming sensation of being frozen. I’m not here to pretend I’m always right and I always know what I’m doing. Life’s a little messy I’m not a genius, and I don’t feel too much like an artist today. Tomorrow I am getting out my paints anyway.


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