My Attempts at Painting

Translated  by Katrina Hassan

This morning I sat in front of my canvas and I stared at it. It looked like a blank; huge! I was a late starter to painting. I tell myself this as I try to draw and don’t manage to get it right. I think of a painting one way and it comes out a different way. It’ll be less bright, less delicate. My paintings come out rough, with poor technique. They turn out like something made by someone who does not know the guidelines of art and paint and of course cannot master them. I like the tough lines and the scraggly brushstrokes that make no sense. The crazy mix of colors, intensity and the reason of being that only I understand. I then take a deep breath and tell myself “No, you did not start this too late. Not at all.’’

Even though painting came into my life before writing and photography, it was the first thing I blocked out. It was made to feel unreachable. Where I am from, that kind of money for a camera is unthinkable. That is thanks to the patriarchy, poverty and excess work plus all the household chores that women of the slums and villages have to put up with. Spare time is a sacrilege. That is not even counting the hours spent carrying water to and fro. It is well known that water in these parts of town comes twice a week only a few hours a day. It took me years to understand that women have the right to have free time and eat sitting down. Only a few years ago, I still ate whilst standing, always in a hurry and almost choking. I didn’t dare sit down because that’s how I grew up. I did housework, worked, studied and never sat down to eat. It was seen as pure laziness.

One day I said to myself that enough was enough and I sat down. At first I was uncomfortable. This was not like me. The food had no taste, I chewed slowly, then I repeated the exercise the following days. I told myself out loud “I have a right to sit down and eat.’’ I finally managed to sit down without guilt. I also felt guilt the day I sat down to read on a cool breezy spring day. I felt I was wasting time, that I needed to find some extra job to do, to keep busy. Work was our day to day life as my siblings and I grew up. Work was the only thing we knew. Everything else meant wasting time and money. Money that was needed to pay for school tuitions, food, school supplies, bran and corn to feed the animals.

I sat and read. I gave all my attention to the book, but only managed to read one paragraph at a time because I felt terribly guilty. I wasn’t supposed to have time to read. I would repeat to myself “ I have a right to have free time. I have a right to have free time and read.’’ Slowly, the feeling passed. Little by little I accepted that having time to myself was my right.

Eight years passed as I tried to save money for a photo camera. When I had enough, I went out to find one. I had no clue which to buy, I just wanted a camera. I just wanted to go out and take pictures. I wanted to catch the woodpeckers on the treetops near my patch of forest that I have adopted as my own. I use my camera to capture the ducks dancing on the river, the ocre colored leaves in autumn, the fog in April and the yellow petals of the sunflowers in August. All that was impossible in childhood and poverty , I finally managed to capture in my adulthood. Photography is one of my big loves. That camera is one of my good luck charms. My bike and computer are the others. On one I  travel through galaxies and the other is a window into the world.

On that summer day, I took my canvas and sat in front of it. It looked huge. I wanted to paint it with a spatula, but I didn’t know how to hold it. There was a way to hold it and slide the paint on to the canvas. That’s when I remembered don Nayo the stonemason. Don Nayo was born in El Asintal. He built the walls surrounding our yard for the house we had in Ciudad Peronia. He gave me a job as his assistant. He sat next to me with his worn out hat, all covered in lime, faded, worn out clothes and with his cracked rough hands took the spatula and said “Girl, this is easy! It’s like taking the spoon and spatula and using it to spread. Pretend you are spreading stuff all over your yard’s wall.’’ I then had a laugh attack. I laughed so much that I cried. I ended up crying and remembering Don Nayo and how he taught me stonemasonry. He showed me how to make the mix, make columns with steel bars, how to level out, dig ditches, join bricks, cut steel with a saw, plaster and sift. When the full solar eclipse happened in the 90s, the roosters called out and the chickens went to lie down, Don Nayo and I were laying bricks for doña Marta’s wall.

I took the paints and the spatula and started to paint the canvas. As I colored it, the canvas looked smaller. I took the spatula with a firm hand, the same way I took the plastering spatula to spread in the far away years of my childhood, in my Great Love Ciudad Peronia.

In the end, my paintings are made using my own techniques and attempts. The instances of happiness are expressed with the intensity of colors mixed with my doodles. Each brushstroke and color is me repeating to myself “I have a right to free time, to express myself and most of all, to be myself.’’

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Ilka Oliva Corado. @ilkaolivacorado 

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