[first published in November 2015]
In order to understand a bit more about “Sisters/Survivors”, you have to understand more about the female shape in the painting.
A number of years ago, I awoke very early in the morning with a vision in my head and heart, a vision of many little girls, all alike yet each unique, a vision of a painting of them. Right then, at some ridiculous hour of the morning, I did a color sketch of what had come to me.
As I worked, I wondered about the source of this vision—it was definitely a spiritual impulse, a message from God. But what was it about? And as I worked, it came to me.
At that time, a friend, Gary Haugen, was starting a non-profit organization called the International Justice Mission. Through Gary I had become more and more aware of human trafficking (in fact, the whole world is now a lot more aware of human trafficking because of Gary and IJM). I heard the stories he told and couldn’t help but think “that could be one of my daughters”. I felt a kinship with women around the world—all alike, but each unique. So I felt a calling to continue working out this vision on paper.
One of the first things I did was to make a template of the figure of the girl. And I used a certain painting technique that involves layering paint, removing it and adding different colors back on top. By keeping the shape of each figure the same, but working with this technique, I could achieve the desired uniformity with uniqueness.
In the first paintings I did with this shape, I tended to paint detailed clothing on the figures, bright, colorful. Their faces are never painted. The resulting paintings tended to be very successful, in a sense; they were accepted into juried shows, and they sold for lots of money. But people didn’t seem to be getting the message of what the figures represented; while there was some mystery about them, they were also fairly cheery looking.
I wanted somehow to convey more of what these women go through, somehow demonstrate the pain and anguish, while at the same time including a message of hope and redemption. So this group of sisters came to be—using colors to represent the pain, the reds and oranges to me are like someone coming through fire.
As I worked on the piece, it became clear to me (and has become clearer even after completing it, as I think about issues having to do with women) that it was no longer about just women caught in human trafficking. It was about what women suffer everywhere: it was about the friend going through the hell of chemo; it was for the friend whose husband left her after 20+ years of marriage; it was for the little girl abandoned then adopted out of foster care
By not painting the detailed clothing, they have been left stark, reduced to their essential shape. But in that reduction, they are still whole. Even with their wounds, they are whole people; and they are together in this suffering and in this hope.