She was only a shell, a shining sliver of the woman. I somehow knew
when she had passed on in July of 2005. We had that kind of connection
to each other. Gramma, my mother’s mother, thrived in the love
of her family and she lived to take care of them.
"I’m so happy to have everyone
here, all together," she
would remark on holiday get-togethers, and we’d laugh because
her words were so predictable. Whether she was reminiscing on her
favorite memories or scolding my father for pouring her another glass
of wine, she was always smiling and she always seemed happy.
When I was growing up, Gramma always had elaborate gardens -- mostly
vegetables, which seemed to grow magically under her care, and then
come August, those gardens were alive with the crimson, salmon, yellow
and white of gladioli blooms. She’d cut gigantic bouquets, so
big they seemed to fill the room, and place them in the center of
the kitchen table.
As Gramma grew older, her gardens grew smaller, but the memories have
stuck with me. Those memories, and my grandmother’s appreciation
for some of the simplest pleasures in life, have had a profound influence
on my artwork. Eva’s Gladiolas, a large vibrant acrylic, was
painted in late 2003. It was accepted into Providence Art Club’s
open juried competition, my first juried show, and I traveled to Providence,
Rhode Island with my sister in early 2004 for Eva’s debut. The
East Side, where the gallery is located, is all hills, lined with
elaborate 19th century homes and cobblestone streets. It is also the
heart of the Rhode Island School of Design campus, where I went to
college. I was proud to see this tribute to my grandmother displayed
in a place I knew well and where so many could view it.
I longed for even a fraction of the sunshine that Gramma radiated.
Years spent battling depression have been an upward climb, like trying
to learn the art of happiness you’re your mind doesn’t
want to cooperate. The hardest part has been that "empty, hollow
feeling", where you wonder if things will ever get better, and
you’re frustrated because you can’t just be satisfied
with your life. It’s been good and bad for me; good, in the
sense that this frustration has been a motivator with the constant
need to better myself, and that things will be better down the line
has given hope. The downside is that sometimes a frustration clouds
my thinking until I can’t concentrate, and that’s when
doubt and indecision creeps in, to the point where I feel paralysed.
glass lampwork beads designed by Janine"
"Yellow-green glass lampwork beads designed
like any other art form, is an escape and perhaps I’ve
spent a good portion of my life trying to escape. These feelings absolutely
drive the way a painting will look – the color choice and combination,
the subject, the composition. Many of my paintings are a contrast
between darkness and beauty, and the 2004 acrylic Hibiscus Reverie
illustrates this very well. I look at it now, and I see the flowers
as trapped; existing in an alternate, dream-like world.
Things have changed so much for me in the past couple of years. I
feel like I’ve made great strides, and established a style that
is all my own. My work has appeared in a series of small shows in
local libraries and restaurants, which has been a rewarding experience.
I’ve also branched out. Part of the excitement for me has always
been in learning and mastering new techniques, new avenues for expression.
The decision to try "lampworking" took some time. I’ve
always loved making jewelry, and for awhile, sold jewelry I’d
made, and vintage beads. Jewelry is challenging because it is so small,
and I discovered that I enjoyed making parts for jewelry more than
entire pieces. I carved pendants out of mother of pearl and abalone,
but there was something about glass that was so appealing. I finally
broke down and bought a lampworking kit, which included a torch, glass
rods, and some tools that looked like they belonged in a dentist’s
office. Like everything else in my life, I dove in.
Let’s just say it took a while to get used to the medium. Molten
glass is more difficult to control than a paintbrush, and cooling
glass is prone to misbehave if it’s not handled properly. I’ve
had more misshapen beads, more beads shatter because they were stuck
to the mandrel (metal rod), as well as problems with discoloration,
and glass that was overcooked. I never took classes, just read everything
I could about how it was done, and maybe that’s why it’s
taken me longer to become proficient at it.
It may sound cliché, but the possibilities really are endless
with glass beads. The bead is a miniature canvas, where you can use
any color imaginable, and embellish them with materials like metal
leaf and foil or enamels. After a little over a year of working on
my technique, I finally bought a small kiln, which is necessary to
anneal the glass. (When glass cools too fast, it can become porous
and brittle. Annealing is the process of heating the beads, then soaking
them at a high temperature and slowly cooling them so that the glass
is stronger and lasts a long time.) In a way, purchasing the kiln
made this "hobby" more permanent.
Sometimes I look at what I’ve done and think I’m nuts.
My interests are all over the place, from painting florals to bead
making to writing about ice hockey (believe it or not, I’ve
taken that up as well). I’ve never completely abandoned any
medium or technique, but I’ve also tried so many that it would
be impossible to do them all at once. The trick is just to find the
right balance between them all.
Each skill has a different meaning in my life.
Painting is very emotional, like expressing the love for my grandmother, my confusion
or my unhappiness. Bead making provides a different kind of release.
It is a challenge, but I love the process, and that the beads can
stand alone, or be used to create something new. Writing is much more
cerebral. Watching sports was always big in my family, and hockey
is one of my favorites. It fulfills a completely different part in
me -- the movement, the excitement, and the competition, and within
the sport there are so many stories to tell.
Gramma was always proud of me, no matter what I did, and losing her
this past summer was a huge blow. My grandparents were the rock of
the family. When I was growing up, they helped my parents so much,
and our entire family gathered at their house on the holidays. It’s
been tough watching their health deteriorate the past few years, because
it seems like it happened so fast. Now Grampa is in a nursing home
and very weak, and their house is about to be sold. In the end, no
matter how much it hurts, I know it is part of the cycle of life.
Gramma had 86 wonderful years on this earth, 65 of those spent married
to my grandfather. When I am feeling down, it helps to think about
what a great family I have, and how lucky I really am. To love and
be loved, that is one thing she taught me that I will never forget.
Copyright © 2006: Janine Pilkington