The Meaning Behind My Artwork: "If I Wander"
If I Wander, 24 x 30, Oil on Canvas, 2020
This work was created entirely with palette knives and Gamblin colors on canvas. I employed a more limited palette, only working with titanium white, alizarin permanent, ivory black, french ultramarine blue, and cadmium yellow.
This work faced a unique obstacle that most haven’t: a pandemic. While the shutdown offered plenty of time to focus on the work, the stress of the pandemic offered an equally-weighted challenge to focusing on any work at all.
Additionally, the work itself presented another challenge in depicting the movement of the figures. I wanted the bustle of a busy sidewalk to come through in the painting rather than have stagnant figures standing by. Ensuring the street signs, particularly the crosswalk sign, glowed with the same bright warmth they have in person during the dark of night required extra attention and time.
Every painting has a process behind it, whether strictly technical or psychological and emotional as well. This piece, If I Wander, is no exception.
Oftentimes when you begin a new work, you have preconceived ideas about what you’ll create; perhaps you’ll paint a certain scene or use certain colors. Just as often, those preconceived ideas about what you’ll create get thrown out when inspiration supersedes planning. Such was the origin of this work, one that’s only become more meaningful to me after the COVID-19 pandemic.
My husband Mike and I were scouring downtown Vancouver for intriguing scenes to take reference photos of. It was early March and I already completed several pieces in the new series I was working on featuring nighttime city-streets; the photos I was taking were destined for the next work in this series. As we walked the area, I was focused on the street, searching for what I thought would be the perfect image—the wide view of an empty street glowing beneath city lights. This work was originally planned to be people-free, but this piece had other plans for itself.
As we walked about and took photos—people passing by in the margins—the inspiration that ultimately made this work what it would become finally struck. I had been set on this piece featuring the expansive, empty stillness of a street view, but suddenly found myself drawn to the very opposite—the movement, energy, and liveliness of all the people beside that street. I followed where my attention took me and started people watching, letting the abundance of unique people and their equally unique stories draw me in. Such a routine scene as people passing each other on the sidewalk suddenly took on a new air of beauty. I watched the streams of people, noticing which people seemed to carry the inner stories that caught my attention most quickly.
The finished work was borne of an image I captured with no hesitation. As soon as the people and the place aligned, I knew this was the scene I would paint. The movement of the people-centered in the work is so organic and everyday—there’s something almost calming about this routine moment with strangers, lovers, friends, and family all mixed in together walking beside each other on their way to unique destinations. Movement is a powerful element for human beings; our bodies were built to move and meant to move often. Unlike a tortoise or a tree, both of which move so little that moss finds them stable enough to make a home of, movement is integral to human life and wellbeing. In this painting’s everyday scene is the one thing we all value most dearly—life.
All the details we often miss around us are present in this work, from the glow of bright lights on street signs to the layered posters on street poles. There is no historic landmark or luscious landscape in this work; it’s the kind of in-between moment that doesn’t make it on to postcards. Yet, those in-between moments are where we live most of our life. This work captures and appreciates that in-between space—the road trip to the destination, the conversation in the waiting line for the museum, and the walk that leads up to the landmark. It’s easy to romanticize the ending, but the middle is where life happens.
What makes this work even more meaningful is the timeframe of its creation. The original reference photo was taken in March, when daily life and socializing had yet to be upended by the COVID-19 pandemic. Shortly afterward, this piece came to carry an unexpected level of nostalgia, as it’s no longer just a moment of everyday life, but a moment of the normalcy we’ve lost.