Both Sides Now – White Iris – Jacki Kellum Pastel & Watercolor

This bold interpretation of my grandmother’s white iris is a mixed media painting. It is Pastel over Watercolor. In one way, this image is not what I had intended to paint, when I began painting one day. It is not the soft and ethereal white iris that I initially had in mind. I’ll still do that painting later. This flashier and louder image emerged, AS I painted it. In another place, I have blogged about how my intuition often takes over when I am painting, and a force seems to lead me into painting what I had not expected, and that is what happened with this version of my grandmother’s white iris.

The same thing happened when I painted Forest Daffodil in the Rain

Forest Daffodil in the Rain – Jack Kellum Watercolor

Bows and flows of angel hair and ice cream castles in the air
and feather canyons everywhere, I’ve looked at clouds that way.
But now they only block the sun, they rain and snow on everyone.
So many things I would have done but clouds got in my way.
– Joni Mitchell, Both Sides Now

Also in another post, I have written that I resist titling a painting until after I have completed it.

I said:

“Like an onion, my paintings have layers of meaning.  I initially trained as an abstract expressionist–but even in those first, abstract pieces, my paintings always meant something to me.  The messages of my abstract paintings were very obscure, but through the titles, I hoped that the viewer would understand the paintings’ meanings. Here is the best scoop about titling my work: I never give a painting a title, until it is complete and I step back and wonder what it actually means. If a painting never means anything to me, I toss it. I consider it an empty piece of fluff.”

Immediately after I painted White Iris, I still had no meaningful title for the image. I began thinking that I may not have been truthful in saying that when there is no title, I toss the image. Yet, something about my White Iris seemed meaningful to me. It wasn’t until today, however, that the title came to me:

Both Sides Now: White Iris – Jacki Kellum Mixed Meda – Pastel & Watercolor

I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now,
from up and down, and still somehow
it’s cloud illusions I recall.
I really don’t know clouds at all. – Joni Mitchell, Both Sides Now
I grew the white iris for the above painting. This iris’s bulbs are from a plant that is well over a hundred years old. My grandmother grew the original white irises in her garden. My grandmother had a large assortment of irises in her garden, and I am fortunate that I still have some bulbs that originated there. Every time that I move, I take my iris bulbs with me. Irises are not the earliest spring flower. They are not even the earliest of the fragrant, spring flowers, but unlike other spring bulbs, they do not bloom until winter has definitely disappeared for the year. When I smell irises blooming in my garden, I know that another winter has ended, and I remember my grandmother and my childhood, and that is the essence that I had hoped to capture in my painting.

I garden to try to stay connected to my roots.  In writing this, I wonder about the people who move away from home and who become totally different beings. Along the way, I did that for a while, but as I have become older, I have realized the futility of that. In denying our pasts, we begin to lose chunks of ourselves.

Joan Didion said: “I think we are well advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be, whether we find them attractive company or not. Otherwise they turn up unannounced and surprise us, come hammering on the mind’s door at 4 a.m. of a bad night and demand to know who deserted them, who betrayed them, who is going to make amends. We forget all too soon the things we thought we could never forget. We forget the loves and the betrayals alike, forget what we whispered and what we screamed, forget who we were.” – Joan Didion

My wonderful, German grandmother was an avid gardener.  I have read that this is true of many German people.  I am fortunate that I lived on the street behind my grandmother.  Many things about my grandmother–and especially about her garden–impacted my life.

I grew up in a tiny, rural community that was surrounded by cotton farms. My grandparents owned a string of houses on Main Street–immediately across from the town’s school.  When I was in school, I walked past my grandparent’s house twice a day.  It always seemed that my grandmother was sitting and crocheting in the light of the living room window.  As I look back now, I realize that she may have been sitting there, just to see me pass. Perhaps that is not the case, but one of my most cherished memories is that of my grandmother, sitting in her window, knitting. That image is somewhat of a beacon for me–an icon–a sort of Whistler’s Mother, calling me home.

Yet, the memory of my grandmother’s sitting is deceiving.  In reality, my grandmother did not sit much at all.  She spent most of her time outside, working in her massive garden.

My grandparents not only owned their own home, they also owned the string of houses next to them.  Keep in mind that this was a rural community, and my grandparent’s houses had immense lots.  The people who rented had nice yards, but my grandmother gardened the backs of all of the yards that my grandparents owned, and on the absolute back of the land, my grandmother planted a glorious stand of hollyhocks.

There was an alley behind the hollyhocks and my street was behind the hollyhocks.  As a young child, at least once a day, I used to walk through the alley, into the towering stand of hollyhocks, and through my grandmother’s flower garden–and finally, to her house.  As soon as I passed beneath the sheltering arms of the hollyhocks, I felt safe and protected. It was a magnificent pilgrimage, and even today as I retrace those steps, my spirit is lifted.

Certainly, as I labor to create my own garden now, my main ambition must be that of holding on to my grandmother’s garden, my grandmother, and my own childhood.  Actually, there could be no better reason at all.

Grandma’s Closet
by Jacki Kellum

The bonnet’s at the very top
The duster’s down below.
Fancy flowers are drying still
They’re hanging in a row.

Breathe the sunshine, weeds, and dirt,
Catch the seeds from Grandma’s skirt,
Save them in your summer shirt.

Plant them; let them grow.
©Jacki Kellum October 9, 2015

I am saying all of this to illustrate what I had initially hoped my painting White Iris would convey, but the painting had a mind of its own. The painting said something else entirely. The white iris that I painted is not soft and mellow, like my memories of my grandmother. Rather, it is loud and stark and highly contrasted. The image that I created shows the other side of the coin–not the soft velvety memory of my grandmother, but the fact that time has passed, and I no longer see life as soft, protected, and velvety soft.

When I was a girl, Joni Mitchell was enjoying her heyday as a singer. I have said this before, but I consider Joni Mitchell to be the greatest poet of my generation. When she was young, she seemed to be bold and self-confident, and her songs were the voice of the American youth during the 1960’s. When she sang her song Both Sides Now, I looked at her, and I admired her. I thought: She really has seen it all. She knows everything. That was 1969, and I was 19-years-old–Joni Mitchell was 26-years-old.

Years later, I saw a changed Joni Mitchell singing Both Sides Now. Her voice was different. Her demeanor was not the same. Something about her presentation reflected that the older Joni Mitchell was older and more sober. Life had added resonance to her message. I realized that Joni Mitchell had been altered by her experiences and that now–not in 1969–she truly HAS looked at life from Both Sides Now, and I am not sure that she has liked all that she has seen.

Both Sides Now: White Iris – Jacki Kellum Pastel & Watercolor.

Today, as I ponder Joni Mitchell and the passage of my own youth, I am aware that I, too, have finally looked at life from both sides now, and I am bewildered, and I believe that is what my painting Both Sides actually says.



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