Some artists can paint portraits of their paramours on an endless loop, devoting their lives to the beauty of those that captured their hearts. But painting a portrait of the one I love has always been a surprisingly daunting task.
This is because the beauty I see in the features and details of the object of my affection far exceed my talent. It may be cliche, but just as words often fail even poets when trying to capture that constantly fleeting focus of their desires, colors and shapes often elude me or end up in a slightly skewed order when I attempt to capture my wife, Carisa, in my art.
I always feel I fall short of the enchantment of what I see daily. That being said, my portraits of Carisa are still very precious to me and though they seem primitive in the light of a human being over whom I'd embark on fairy tale epics, I feel they still, in their best moments, point to the essence I struggle to capture.
The first portrait of Carisa was completed in 2013 shortly before her birthday in mid-November. This was the second painting I'd attempted following a long hiatus I mentioned in previous blogs. Unlike a lot of my work, I didn't have a clear concept of an end result in mind when I started painting. Instead, I just went with the flow and hoped for the best.
The image was somewhat inspired by a band that Carisa created for her solo compositions, Velvet Stars Collide, in which I played keyboards. This short-lived band still means a lot to me as it gave me my first opportunity to perform music in front of an audience. The name "Velvet Stars Collide" came to Carisa spontaneously and when I thought about it, I felt this purple expanse of space raining black velvet stars bordered in light baby pink glow.
The look of Carisa in this portrait was unintentionally inspired by the Great Tyrant from Barbarella although this also incorporates a lot of Carisa's style which is coincidentally similar. In the early days of my glam rock group Peppermint Pumpkin, I had contemplated how the band member's individual styles might evolve as we progressed into spacier territory and I always imagined Carisa as this sort of galactic mystic wearing a gown that looked like the blackest reaches of space and all of the stars that punctuated it had been wrapped around her.
I tried to incorporate this loosely into the design of Carisa's dress in this particular portrait. Her hand is extended, presenting a light pink hedgehog, but there's really no deep meaning in this. She just likes hedgehogs and the color pink. Over Carisa's left shoulder, there is a bright burst of white and pink light meant to symbolize Sirius (one of Carisa's obsessions).
On the other side is a spaceship; an allusion to a character loosely based on Carisa who appears in the novel I'm writing. I recall struggling with the spaceship design a lot. Creating the spaceship was reminiscent of an assignment in my 5th grade class in which we had to design our own space colonies including spacecraft. I ended up piecing together approximately 30 pieces of loose-leaf paper, creating an enormous space craft that needed volunteers from the class to help hold it up for proper presentation.
However, the next presenter, a friend of mine, held up one piece of paper with a sleek, simple design that filled me with envy. My whale of a spaceship could easily be destroyed by his miniature piranha-like space fighters. Ever since then, designing vehicles has been a bit of a daunting experience for me, despite lots of great influence (like Chris Foss's designs for Jodorowsky's Dune). In the end, the spaceship in this portrait didn't quite exude the vibe I was looking for, but it at least hints at the intentions.
According to my diary, I had a lot more challenges with this portrait than I'd had with the Dorian Gray painting I'd completed right before it. However, my final diary notes indicate I was satisfied with the end results.
For Christmas this year, I wanted to create a new portrait of Carisa based on some concepts she'd told me about much earlier in the year. I had been playing guitar for her solo work and we'd been focused on songs for her nearly completed record Kore when she described to me some ideas she had for cover art. She mentioned orcas, the color pink, and space, all of which I distinctly felt in the music she'd written. Instead of trying to do a portrait from the torso up, I instead focused on Carisa's face.
I knew early on that I would be incorporating pink Amazon river dolphins due to my fascination with their wild, almost primitive appearance when compared to their seafaring cousins. I should mention that Carisa has a deep psychological terror of cetaceans. It's not a fear that they will harm her as far as I can tell.
It's a much more abstract fear. When she sees a cetacean unexpectedly, it's as if she's looking into a void and watching everything unravel. It may seem cruel that I'd choose to include Amazon river dolphins, an orca, and even the humpback whale in the lower left border corner, but cetaceans figure strongly into Carisa's mythology. She often considers orcas her favorite animal, even though they terrify her immensely.
Orcas feature in her latest music videos and one is prominently displayed on the cover of her latest album. So, while this portrait did strike a momentary fear in her, even though I'd prepared her somewhat for what she was about to see, she wasn't offended by the presence of cetaceans as she seems to consider them holy, otherworldly beings.
Carisa has no more affinity for Amazon river dolphins than the more common variety, but my attraction to their strange appearance and light pink skin color made them perfect choices for the primary guardians of the portrait. The orca rising from a pool superimposed over a checkerboard marble floor references a beautiful dream that I had prior to meeting Carisa in which I was wandering the crumbling ruins of a beautiful castle.
I walked across a wet checkered floor to a hole in the castle's facade and found myself looking down a steep cliff edge overlooking the ocean, tousled violently by a storm. Waves crashed against the cliff face far below me and I saw the unmistakable fins of a pod of orcas swimming in the turbulence directly below me.
This second portrait of Carisa was titled Kore due to its inclusions of the elements Carisa had discussed with me during the albums final stages (the color pink, orcas, space). I also incorporated four animals into the border with which Carisa has at some time or another expressed an affinity. In the lower left, we have the humpback whale (we actually went on a tour for Carisa's birthday in which we saw humpback whales.
The scorpion presides over the upper left corner, referencing Carisa's zodiac sign of Scorpio. In the upper right corner, we find the raven, the messenger of magic in Native American beliefs. Finally, the snake, a symbol of transcendence, guards the lower right corner. There's so much that goes into this portrait that can't be explained in words.
Rather it is a visual reverence and pride I feel for the woman I love and a gesture of gratitude to the universe that created such an indescribably beautiful creature. The portrait may only capture the hint of a reflection of light shining from one of her myriad facets but I am thankful to have the talent to capture even that.