“You can spend minutes, hours, days, weeks, or even months over-analyzing a situation; trying to put the pieces together, justifying what could’ve, would’ve happened… or you can just leave the pieces on the floor and move the f— on.” Tupac Shakur
Much easier said than done, but there’s power in the ability to let go. Tupac’s metaphorical “floor” can represent a lot of things. For me, that floor was the dance floor at one point in my life- now, the floor might be writing in a journal or a late night phone call with a dear friend or family member. While journals, personal essays and memoirs are written testaments of reflection, I’m also drawn to visual representations of reflection in art that provide a vital space to grapple with life’s situations, whether they be mundane or monumental. There’s also a power in reflecting and reframing, and that’s what artist Carmen Neely reflects in her art.
Neely combines elements of abstract painting with totems that become vessels for memory. Language is an important guide to her work, as each piece is a phrase that someone has either said to or about the artist herself. By incorporating objects of sentimentality into her works she’s also creating work that is, as the artist describes, “a result of this emphasis on both reflecting and relishing.”
In the piece, “Every. Damn. Body. Wants a Fairytale”, the title is derived from a phone call Neely shared with a trusted friend while dealing with some justified frustrations with expectations the artist encountered when dating. How we define a “fairytale” is subjective, yet asserting what one wants in a relationship shouldn’t be perceived as an unattainable wish, it’s a validation of what one wants and deserves. In the piece Neely deconstructs the idealistic characteristics of a fairytale, using bold, assertive blush-colored strokes and a series of similarly strong gestural movements that evoke the practice of picking up the pieces of a shattered dream and reconstructing it to assert one’s own power. Perception is an important motif in the work too; while the pale pink conjures princess-like associations with a diminutive damsel, the energy and heft of the brushstrokes suggest that our definitions deserve to be shaken up a bit.
While Tupac’s words of wisdom still ring true, Neely’s art shows us that you can take those pieces and turn them into something beautiful again…and then move the f— on.
Carmen Neely’s work will be included in the North Carolina Museum of Art’s Front Burner: Highlights in North Carolina Contemporary Painting, which opens on March 7, 2020.