Runaways, suicide attempts, body image issues, relationships, fears, family life, neurotic obsessions, explorations, marriage, motherhood, and life’s largest questions… it’s all there.
Looking back on an artist’s work is similar to reading someone’s diary. Simply put, art is a visual diary. Those who read my book “Open America” (journal excerpts and paintings from The Nomadic Project) may already understand this relationship. However, I now realize that this diary becomes clearer over the years. In fact, “read” in full and in chronological order, it could tell the entire life story of an artist. In addition, early art, while often very poor in technique, is usually the most raw and honest of work by an artist. It is less likely to be disguised by training, habits, style or even one specific medium.
Every time I clean out the studio, I find more old work shoved in boxes, tubes, and mildewed frames. The execution is awful but I still can’t bare to destroy the work since it reminds me who I am and how far I have come. Most of it has never been exhibited and much of it is unfinished. It was the work I created before calling myself an artist… back when I used to say, “I paint.” Galleries and jurors are rarely interested in work beyond 3 years old, and some pieces I’m a bit embarrassed to even claim. Yet, maybe some passionate collector will come by for a studio visit and fall in love with something that I have been tempted to trash. Or maybe I’ll finally just destroy it all when I run out of storage space. For now, it serves as a walk down memory lane just as my stack of old journals do. And I decided to even share a small selection in this post. You can piece together the visual story on your own but in order to prove the point of this post, I have also added a few captions…
I was an incredibly tortured teen (weren’t we all?). I would often get stuck within the deepest hollows of my mind and frequently ran away from home. Stubbornness and a poor relationship with my father earned me a swift kick out of the house at 15 yrs old. It also put me in the hospital twice after pitiful suicide attempts. I was able to bounce around the homes of friends and family until graduation and most importantly, this was the time in my life that I learned to master the “appearance of perfection.” I rarely missed school, graduated with honors and always smiled as I walked into a situation, despite any inner turmoil. I never wanted to be seen as damaged and just wanted to blend in. The above piece is the earliest painting that I have in my studio.
Seeing that I had a huge heart for children and caring for my younger siblings, my grandparents sent me on a mission trip in an attempt to “save” my troubled teenage soul. Upon return, I focused mainly on social issues with my work. Limited funds and resources led me to using pencil as my medium.
I moved to FL and attempted to live with my parents again. Stifled and in a new place, I fell into old habits and once again ran (drove) away. I became lost within myself and completely narcissistic, building shallow relationships with the outside world.
Sets of watercolor pencil and pastels were given to me from the son of the art store I worked at. They were the gateway back into color and blending. However, in “paradise” there is no old or imperfections. It was a completely uninspiring environment so I created images from my past.
Within a year, I had found an apartment, traveled to NYC and funded my way to London, Rome, Florence and Sorrento. I embraced my independence, but there was no way to avoid the narcissism. At age 19, this was pointed out to me when my boyfriend (now husband) titled one of my paintings “Ever the Narcissist.”
Finally feeling safe in a relationship with my soon to be husband, I began looking outward at the affects we have on one another. While painting large scale murals as an apprentice with artist Cary di Valentin I developed an obsession with framing tiny symbolic images and phrases. So I have a collection of large paintings and small drawings from this time.
Marriage. House. Car. Comfortable…but not… The above piece sells for $814 to a complete stranger who ends up the host of my first “artist reception.” First article in a newspaper. Begin calling myself an artist.
I complete an entire series titled “Inhibitions,” host Open Studios in my new house and win my first non-education related award. Kennedy Promotions “Best of Florida,” with prize money and all.
50 paintings in 50 states in 50 galleries in just 13 months. The Nomadic Project. Press, recognition and representation around the country…it is the beginning of large collaborative work with husband, Alfonso Llamas. It is not an easy journey, but incredibly inspiring and certainly worth every hard-working moment.
While traveling, I become very interested in history, story telling and landscapes but retain and expand on a sense of realism and surrealism.
After the TNP dust settles, I fall back into myself a bit and pull comfort from a song that my mother sang to me as a child. The above piece wins a $1000 award by National Society of Arts and Letters. I also am honored by the State of Florida with my first artist grant.
I have my first child, and it may be the outside chaos pulling me from the inner chaos, but for the first time I feel a glimpse of peace. My lifestyle and painting style shift. I decide to travel less, take more commissions and get involved locally. I begin tearing apart and reconstructing my canvas before painting on it. I also include mirror written text pulled from my old journal entries. Everything begins to come together and I drop my maiden name in my signature. K. Abraham becomes K. Llamas. I still grow and develop daily, with new ideas boiling over and sometimes burning me, but I no longer cringe when I say “I am an artist.”