Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Progress is a Process

"Burdens are the foundations of ease and bitter things the forerunners of pleasure."

If there is one thing I have learned the past year it's that our struggles build and shape us.  If I were able to see myself a year ago, before two knee surgeries, a cross country expedition, and international relocation, I'd probably want to tell myself to get ready to hold on tight, it will be a bumpy ride.

It's probably best to start from before the knee surgeries and touch upon how I ended up on a hospital bed for the 5th time before my 25th birthday.

Along with art, I had a passion that drove most of my decisions - snowboarding.  I was riding close to 100 days a year and competing in freestyle and rail competitions throughout the year.  It didn't matter how many concussions I endured, how many bruises I was marked with, how sore my joints felt - I was going to get out in the mountains and strap in.

The feeling of floating, the elation of competition, the happiness of exploration, the inspiration from nature, the connection with cultures around the world - all these things I found in snowboarding.  I was hungry and I didn't know how to listen to my body and slow down.  Eventually this habit of pushing past the pain, emptying bottles of tylenol, and just toughing it out caught up with me.

My most recent surgery this past May involved a bone matched cadaver, a meniscus cadaver, 11 hours unconscious on a surgery bed, an unknown number of internal and external stitches, and over 35 staples.  I was 24, 130 pounds, and scared when I went under anesthesia.

I left Fletcher Allen Hospital a different person - petrified, in pain, and completely immobile.  The next few weeks were full of medications, emotions, withdrawals, pains, and depression.  I dropped to about 100 pounds from complications with the prescribed narcotics, I was mentally unavailable, and sitting up in bed felt as difficult as running a marathon.  I felt myself getting sucked into this spiral of self pity and hopelessness.

That's when I turned to art to try and make sense of my feelings and perceptions of my immediate world.  Immediately I felt, at least a little, better emotionally.  Here was something I could control, something that didn't cause me pain or anxiety, something that at times made me laugh.  The realization that the world doesn't stop unless you allow it to saved me... from myself.

Sketch during first week of recovery - May 2013
 I still couldn't see the end of the road, or imagine myself being where I was before this surgery, but I felt empowered for the first time in weeks.  I could work through this - starting with my mind, and my body would follow.

Along with sketches, I created an Instagram series called "Adventures of Foot" to document my road to recovery, keep my mind focused on something other than the radiating pain from my left knee, and to give my family and friends updates on my process without feeling the pressure of formulating coherent sentences.  It also helped seeing people interacting with these story boards.  I felt less alone.

During this healing time I was packing up my life to send to my new home in Vancouver, British Columbia.  At first the idea of doing anything but going to physical therapy and getting stronger was unfathomable.  However, as the boxes became sealed and shipped I began to truly realize how fortunate I was to have an opportunity to move internationally, no matter how less than ideal this timing was.

I began to submit to this change, listen to my body, and build myself back bit by bit.  My health was improving day by day, and I was going to move to an outdoor enthusiast's paradise. 

Rediscovering the importance of yoga, as it had happened with art, was another essential point in my recovery process.  The practice of yoga helps build focus and patience while slowly awakening muscles and fibers that, especially now, had been dormant.

Seeing the changes finally come filled me with excitement, and by the time I was able to get on a bicycle (3 months after my surgery) I was feeling more determined than ever.  I could walk, bike, stretch, and I was about to embark on the biggest solo journey I had ever done - a drive across the United States, ending in Vancouver, British Columbia.  Seeing this as an opportunity to learn more about the country, myself, and my art practice I created a project called the "Between the Points Project".

The Between the Points Project investigated how traveling would affect the creative process during my drive and relocation from Burlington Vermont to Vancouver British Columbia.  The project was funded by individuals who purchased either a postcard to be sent during the trip, or an original artwork made during the trip that would be sent upon my arrival in Canada.  Over 60 individuals became involved in the project, along with the material support from Artists' Mediums, Black Horse Fine Art Supply, and Desillusion Magazine.  On the morning of August 5th I set off on what would be a 2 week journey of discover, creativity, and physical rehabilitation.

I needed to stop every few hours to stretch my leg, so I brought along a craigslist hand-me-down bicycle and used it as a way to strengthen and explore.

I arrived in Vancouver, albeit tired, energized from an inspiring journey, stronger from months of persistence, and determined to have a better approach to my passions and physical activities.  The biking didn't stop, it only increased, along with hiking and exploring a new city - my new home.

I did my best not to think about snowboarding.  My doctor had stated my participation in that sport would need to be put off for at least a year.  If I was going to be snowboarding, he made it clear I would need to be approaching it as a physical therapy activity - not a competitive sport.  I again turned to art to try and process these feelings.  I created a mini-series of 20 original artworks, each priced at $20, called 20 BY 20 where I focused on the forms in yoga that I had become so involved with during my recovery.  I depended on these poses to help heal, and I was curious how examining them on paper would feel.

Ashtanga - 5" x 9" - Ink and Watercolor
Backbends - 5" x 9" - Ink and Watercolor

While that helped channel a certain amount of my restlessness I still felt the itch of snowboarding at the back of my brain.  I could feel the sensations of winter working their way into my mind and artwork.  I could find the colors in all the art I was currently producing.

Work in Progress - 12" x 24" - Acrylic on Canvas

Always Always
11" x 14" - Ink, Watercolor, Acrylic

Knowing myself and my previous approach to snowboarding, not to mention the still present pains and reminders of my surgery, I had just about given into this idea of taking the season off completely, and taking up something more passive... like knitting.

But then again, I am a stubborn Sagittarius.

I had spent the last 6 months focused on gaining strength and stability, listening to my body's needs, and building confidence.  With the urging of my partner and the opportunity to explore a new part of British Columbia in a relatively low-risk way, I packed up my split board, skins, poles, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and headed into the wilderness.

Slow and steady, one step at a time, I carefully climbed that ridge, feeling confident about the guides I was with, and pretty sure my knee wasn't going to implode along the way.  When we reached the top I was filled with the most uncomfortable anxiety, and the feeling that I had just made the same damaging mistake again.  After all these months, countless hours of watching my toes flicker, I had put myself in a situation that was going to destroy all that progress.

I then realized that this self-doubting mentality was more damaging than the slope in front of me would ever be.  Without the belief that I am competent, capable, and strong I would never achieve those traits.  I had momentarily allowed myself to lose that connection with my breath and my inner strength.  I took a deep breath (or maybe a few) and carefully and cautiously made my decent.

 That feeling of happiness and excitement surrounding snowboarding came back for those few turns.  I'd be lying to say I didn't experience some discomfort in my knee, but I'd be foolish to say I shouldn't have been there - that I wasn't prepared.  I had gained back a certain amount of confidence in, literally, getting back on top of that mountain.

I wanted to revisit that feeling, but also to ensure that it wasn't just a fluke - that I hadn't just narrowly danced around another injury.  The next weekend I embarked on a two day journey into the mountains, paired with learning about the new terrain and the intricacies of snow.

Each turn felt better than the preceding.  Each engagement felt more comfortable than the previous.  While I can feel the leg is still weaker than the other, I know there is enough strength there to participate in my passions once again.  I know the road to recovery is not yet over, nor even close to completion, but I have learned some valuable things thus far:

- Your body is a blessing, and it deserves to be listened to, nurtured, and empowered -

- It's okay to take time away from something you love, as long as you understand it is only temporary -

- It's okay to accept help - it is a sign of affection -

- Pain is powerful - in the moment and after the fact.  Take it in and learn from it -

And perhaps the most important of all...

- Never give up . Never give in -

Here's to another journey, another season, another lesson to learn.

Jessa Gilbert

Monday, September 16, 2013

Three In - Art comes Out - Vancouver, BC

"More of Me Comes Out When I Improvise"
-Edward Hopper

It's been 3 weeks since I planted my feet in Vancouver, which means the artwork created during the Between the Points Project is just about ready to ship out to the individuals involved.  It has been a rewarding experience and process being with these artworks for this long, and reflecting over the journey - the colors, textures, temperatures, interactions, etc.

I suppose, much like any trip, it is normal look back at the images created or the souvenirs procured during that time.  I've realized, however, that this journey and these experiences resonate within me without needing to refer back to a specific image.  Colors I didn't typically gravitate towards in my painting suddenly seem common on my painter's palette.

Images and motifs seem to seep their way into the artworks, almost without my conscious action.  When I look at the artwork after the fact, I feel the memory of that moment, of that place, come charging back to the forefront of my mind.

Nature, and natural elements and colors, have found there way into the artworks in direct and indirect ways.

Moments are still playing themselves over and over in my mind, as if I were there - feeling the feelings, hearing the sounds, seeing the sights,

holding that connection between the body and the earth.

As I finalize the last envelopes before sending the artworks out to those individuals involved, I feel it necessary to say
Thank you.
Thank you to Artist's Mediums of Williston Vermont for donating art supplies to the project.
Thank you to Black Horse Fine Art Supply for donating art supplies to the project.
Thank you to Desillusion Magazine for donating magazines to use as supplies for the project.
Thank you to you for this opportunity and being a part of its creation.

I will announce by the end of the week when the work has been sent out.  I would suspect it will take no more than two weeks to reach each of you.

I hope you enjoy the work.
I hope you keep in touch with the artwork inspired by the journey after the fact at:
or directly

It has been my pleasure.

Jessa Gilbert

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Process, Memory, and Beautiful British Columbia

The dogs here can communicate in English and French.
Or at least that's what the government here is pushing for - that all dog owners must teach their dogs commands in both English and French.  Luckily, this breaking news story came around the same time Miley Sirus began twerking, so all in all we in Canada may be winning.

Set up has begun, and although there are minor tweaks to the studio to come, I feel I am closing in on a permanent set up.  I overlook my neighbor's beautifully manicured vegetable garden, a Sedarium plant I'm hoping becomes interesting and not just mold, and my Grandmother's (I think) table that I have turned into my painter's table.

It's been such a joy to go through the pieces created on the Between the Points Project.  Although I have landed here in Vancouver, British Columbia, I feel as though I'm still on the road when I go through these works.  It's as if creating these pieces in those places captured and retained the energy of that moment.  While I always thought of paintings and artwork being able to produce emotions for the viewer, these sentiments are much stonger than I had anticipated.

Even within the photographs I developed from my Ricoh 35 mm camera.  Perhaps that's just how memory works - it is jolted awake by images or things or scents.  When I began the Latitude/Longitude photographs I had this in mind - that a memory is actually a fleeting, unclear thing.  As theory states, "our perception of the past is always influenced by the present, which means it is always changing."

By having something, in this case a latitude and logitude location "trigger", in the foreground, the background becomes gauzy and painterly - much like memories.

This process of redefining what you see and how you understand it is essential for creating a body of work, or a process of working, that feels noteworthy - for me at least.  I also enjoy trying to think of past events in a different way.  Perhaps you can imagine an unpleasant moment in a positive or humorous light.
Like these:

Cloudy Mornings.
Although I was hoping for a beautiful sunrise in Virginia, I was greeted with cloud covered rolling hills.  I would pack a few things and go back to look, but the mountains were still fast asleep under their blankets of clouds.

Which plagued me State after State either due to dust of different things in bloom.

Desert Heat.
As my close friends like to point out, my body does not do an exceptional job regulating heat.  However, the colors of the desert feel alive, and though I was at times unable to take a step, the people accustomed to the desert heat didn't let it stop them.

Sometimes to energize the mind and body, for me, it is best to just get to work.  This project, as well as preparing for my next group show, the Lab Arts Show put on by Glitz Entertainment, as well as creating a new portfolio for the Open Door Gallery, who I am represented by here in Vancouver, has helped me to hit the ground running, and be thankful for everything I have, have done, and will do.

That doesn't mean I have chained myself to my painter's table.  It is still important to be outside in the real world - noticing color combinations,



and beyond.

Two weeks in, and things are settling in nicely as I prepare the artworks from the Between the Points Project to ship out this month.

So much to come.

Jessa Gilbert