Wednesday, August 14, 2013

How I painted my first abstract

When I was little I sometimes painted with my grandmother (Mémé) in her attic. It was a small space with one sunny window and it had all the romance of a Parisian garret as far as I was concerned at age 7. It smelled of warm lumber and dust and it was wonderful.

Henri Matisse
We gessoed our own board and canvas and I still am transported by the smell of gesso.
One day in particular remains a clear memory. I was 7 and I had a the dreaded blank canvas in front of me and fussed because I did not know what to paint. I had already painted a vase of flowers that I did not like and was bored with the idea. I particularly recall turning my nose up at typical "kid" themes but I was stumped.
My grandmother told me to just put down paint and not to worry about it.
Huh?
Won't that be ugly? I wondered.
"Its a mish-mash painting" she said.
While the term "mish-mash" does not have a great connotation, it spoke to a 7 year-old me.
It was exhilarating.
It was there that I discovered that the painting does not need to be of something to be about something. It is a concept many people struggle with.
 Both artists and non-artists try to find literal objects in my work and its frustrating to explain that that there is no witch eating ice cream or dog at a bar in the painting and they need not look for anything else.
So that day, mish-mash I did and I still love this one.

In the attic with Mémé  circa 1975 by Kerry Burke (Steele)

This painting is the reason I choose to paint mostly abstracts today.
The heady memory of art supplies, musty wood  and a cherished moment of discovery with a very dear relative are in this canvas.

14 comments:

Nancy {at} powellbrower at home said...

What a beautiful story Kerry! I can just imagine it up in that attic. We had an attic growing up that I spent a lot of time in and have lots of memories of. So glad your Meme got you started!
Xo Nancy

julielorusso@gmail.com said...

great story, beautiful memory.

Elizabeth Day said...

What a beautiful story, Kerry. Thanks for sharing that precious memory.

Elizabeth @ The Little Black Door said...

Such a great story, thanks for sharing that. Everyone needs a Meme in their life!

home before dark said...

Lovely story. I was intrigued at an Monet exhibit at the Nelson-Atkins in nearby Kansas City. The subject was a triptych of the waterlilies. The museum combined science and art history to explain and show beneath the abstract colors Monet had drawn in subjects that he had to "teach" him to "abstract". My husband who has terrible eyes won a junior high art fair by taking off his glasses and painted what he saw. Which was, indeed, a mishmash of colors.

Linda {Calling it Home} said...

I love this story. When I smelled the warm lumber, I wanted to lear how to build things.

Karen Albert said...

Kerry that is a wonderful memory to cherish!Your Meme was wonderful to encourage as she did. Your color palette was forming even then! Love the painting!

xoxo
Karena
2013 Designer Series!

House@heart said...

Beautiful memory!! It is so personal, thanks for sharing with us!!
Ozana

Patty Day @Pattys Epiphanies said...

Thank you for sharing your story. To find your love and grow with it is inspiring. You are very lucky to have found it so young.

Vel Criste said...

What a wonderful story Kerry. We owe your grandma a lot then on your beautiful abstracts now! :-)

An Urban Cottage said...

That's a pretty wonderful mish-mash of the painting! And with a wonderful story behind it, it's a real gem.

Kim said...

I love this story and thank you for sharing! Your talent is amazing ... if my grand mother told me to "mish mash" it would not have been so inspiring!! xo

Kimberly Lemmon said...

What a wonderful story. Funny how smells are part of good memories. I can still smell my Italian grandmother's kitchen!

Christina Baker said...

Kerry!!! This is such a beautiful story of you being a little young artist. I can totally relate in more ways then you know. Oh, and that painting is awesome!! I love the neutral tones in it.