Evidence & Excavation

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At a recent gathering at my parents’ house, someone remarked about how much of my childhood artwork was covering the walls. Maybe it’s because I grew up in that house or because the paintings just became part of the regular scenery that one doesn’t pay attention to anymore. Whatever the reason, I had never noticed how true it really was–that every room in that house has some remnant of my childhood passion for art. My parents were so proud and excited about the products of my years of art lessons, that they hung absolutely everything–even the art that I would describe as the “ugly, weird phase.” The kitchen holds the first real painting I remember working on when I was about eight–a parrot head on paper that I had obviously folded in half and stuck in my book bag because the crease still shows down the middle despite being framed and under glass for at least 30 years now. The kitchen is also home to two of my early attempts at realism–a sunny-side up egg being sliced through the yolk and a cheeseburger, oozing ketchup. I love how I signed my paintings then, “BY Patty Svarnas.” Hilarious.

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In the living room, is a small painting I did of the White Tower, a major historical site in the Greek city of Thessaloniki, about an hour or so from my family’s village. I think that was the first piece that inspired my love of boats.

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In the den, my paintings cover every wall. A large-scale painting of a blue domed church in Santorini. I painted it on a big piece of cardboard that had supported a movie poster I bought to hang in my bedroom. I think I was thirteen. A grouping of parrots against a dark background. And a painting of my parents’ English Tudor house which I presented to my dad for Christmas when I was a freshman in high school. (***Sorry for the blurry shots.)

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And in my parents’ bedroom is my favorite painting from that time–an Impressionistic style bed and breakfast facade with a big tree in front and sun dappling the whole scene.

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My little walk down memory lane made me think seriously about how life leaves us clues. There’s evidence, whether in paintings or memories, that can guide us towards what we love. For years, I struggled with trying to figure out what my passion was. What was I devoted to? What did I want to pursue? What would make me happy? I couldn’t seem to find the answers because I was looking for them “out there.” Beyond myself, beyond the obvious. The truth was right in from of my face. Or in this case, on the walls of my childhood home. Every time I stopped by to have dinner with my mom and dad. Every time we all gathered for Christmas. Each birthday party we celebrated at their dining room table, the clues from the past were right there. I just had to turn on the light…put on my glasses…open my eyes.

Everyone has their own story and perhaps for some it won’t be this obvious. But life does leave clues. It’s just that as we grow from children to adults, we lose that childish enthusiasm and that abandon with which we used to play. For me, one of the biggest and best decisions I made was to give myself permission to go back to that place and that age when I felt free and alive and filled with an overwhelming well of creativity. And to just do it. Finger paint, get dirty, give myself weird art assignments that would open up new ideas and techniques, be free. And it’s made me so much happier and more creative and productive. Life leaves clues. Go back, excavate, and see what good things you left behind. What are they telling you? What can you learn? And what can you revive?

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