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It All Began With Poop

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It All Began With Poop

It All Began With Poop.
(Warning: may contain swearing and TMI)

Quite often I get asked how long I have been painting. Have I always been creative? When did it all start? This summer I went back to Alberta to visit with family and spent some time speaking to my parents about just that. I don’t really have many vivid memories of my childhood, so I was curious about those questions as well. Who better to ask than, Mom?! Mom remembers everything!

Well, I hate to say it...but Mom says it started with poop! Like every good “Mom” story, you know, the embarrassing ones. The ones that Mom always saves for your first boyfriend or for your wedding day. Thankfully, she had forgotten some of these stories until I asked about it. So my boyfriends were spared these gory details! Apparently, around the age of about 6 months, my artistic abilities and use of mixed media was already appearing. On more than one occasion, Mom was greeted by a smiling, ginger haired baby, happily painting her crib with poop! At the time, Mom was working in a care facility for children and adults with mental challenges. Poop painted cribs was a common occurrence there. So, she was slightly concerned for her first born child. Thankfully the poop painting stage did not last long. I had found a new favorite ‘medium’ to create with instead. As my little brothers arrived in the house, I was very much the mom’s little helper. And since I had watched Mom powder my little brothers’ butts, I thought I could help too. One day Mom walked into the baby room to find me, the cribs, the walls, the floors, and everything else within reach, covered in vaseline and baby powder! Mom said it was cute the first time, but it did not stop there. I did not give up that particular medium until the day Mom sat on the floor in the middle of my masterpiece and cried her heart out. Sorry Mom!

To save her sanity, Mom figured out she needed to give me some other tools to work with. She made sure my brothers and I always had a place to create. In every home we lived in as we grew up, there was always a wall for us to draw on. Just one space on a wall. Where all of us kids could draw, paint and scribble to our heart’s content. In one house, there was a sort of crawl space under the basement stairs. That was our space to create. We splashed color on every inch of floor and wall space in there. It was our ‘fort’. We loved that place and would spend hours in there! Give your 3 crazy ginger kids crayons and lock them in the crawl space under the stairs….. How smart was my mom?! She was probably doing vodka shots while we were in there!

Over the years I have used many mediums. It may have started with poop, but I have branched out to better and less smelly things. I have painted on a lot of things. Cars, windows, signs, canvas, lamps, name it, I have probably slapped some paint on it. When I started the Fine Arts program at the Red Deer College, a whole new world opened up to me. There were no limitations. I was introduced to drawing, print making, sculpture, glass blowing, photography, ceramics and the wonderful world of abstract painting. At first I did not even know what ceramics was. But I completely fell in love with it. I loved every single thing about it. It was physical, sensual, and messy….all the things I love! Remember that old movie, Ghost, with Patrick Swayze? Do you remember the scene where Patrick and what’s-her-name were getting all sexy at the potters wheel with a big lump of clay? Well, that is how I feel when I play with clay, except without Patrick. Another great thing about working with clay, is there are kilns. All different kinds of kilns to cook your clay in. My favorite was using a sawdust firing. I could stick all sorts of weird things in a big metal wash tub, put in my clay pieces, top it up with sawdust and straw, then set it on fire with a tiger torch. There was smoke and flames and you could roast marshmallows! When the fire was finally out, I would open up the tub and find the most wonderful surprises! Working with clay was the best thing ever, and I hope one day I can get back to it.

I was incredibly excited to learn about photography too. I loved that class, but sadly, I was a complete failure at it. No matter how hard I tried, I just could not make anything good come out of it. But I loved the process and threw myself into all the assignments. One project we had to do, was to photograph an outdoor installation that we would design. I cannot remember what my installation was about, but it involved life size wooden stick figures, a very large hill of dirt and fire. All went well until the local fire department came along and shut me down so I did not burn down the whole neighborhood. Another assignment was to photograph a self portrait. This was before internet selfies existed. I covered an entire room in my parents basement with black paper, set up 2 cameras on timers, got naked, covered myself in white paint and rolled around like a maniac while the cameras snapped away. The idea was great, the photographs were not. The instructor loved the idea, but neither one of us could figure out why I could not produce a quality photo! The instructor never returned that project to me….I wonder where those pictures are?!

Then I was introduced to abstract painting. The assignment was to show up for class with 10 abstracts. So I hit the library, did some research on abstract artists and started to paint. I have never looked back. I can paint on anything and in any size I want, with any medium I want. I have used all kinds of paints, crayons, chalk, pastels, fabric, string, coins, dirt, and sand. My parents once took a road trip down the west coast of the United States and collected sand from every single beach they stopped at. They kept track of the name of each beach that the sand came from and I used that 5 gallon pail of sand in many of my “beach sand” paintings. When I ran out of the sand, I took to digging dirt out of my mom’s garden. My mom was pissed. Not that I was taking dirt from her garden, but that I was doing it at midnight, in -30 and she was worried the neighbors might think I was burying a body out there! My parents did not know what to think of my new love of the abstract. One day, while my parents were looking over some of my work, my mom said to me, “I wonder what a shrink would say about all this?” HA! My dad would just slowly shake his head back and forth and say, “I am sorry, I just don’t get it!” Abstract painting is just so liberating for me. It is physical, sensual and messy, just like ceramics. I learned all the rules in college about color theory and composition. But I do love to break a rule and that is what painting is about for me. I once taught a painting class to a lady that was coached about all sorts of rules from former teachers. So many rules, that she was too afraid to paint for fear of breaking those rules. I do not know if she learned any painting skills from me but she did learn to break the rules, let loose, have fun, feel joy, laugh, dance and sing while she painted. I gave her permission to use forks, straws and all the colors of the rainbow in her work. She learned that it does not have to be great work, but it does have to be great fun! And it is even better when it is messy!

Thankfully, I have moved on from poop and now I paint in my own physical, sensual, and messy way and hope to inspire others to let their own creative inner freak fly!

Tracy Bonin
Canadian artist, living the dream in Mexico.