Writing Portfolio- Stephanie Tomasson Age 17, Grade 12, Trinity School, Gold Key

My sweaters are usually quite docile. They obediently sit on their designated shelves and maintain their perfectly creased positions. They know that they must be seated according to color and they certainly know they cannot move unless I move them. They are dutiful subjects, eager to be worn on crisp fall days. Each has found its place in the closet kingdom—color families, diversely patterned cliques and the unexpected love affair between vertical and horizontal stripes. Although mingling is welcome in small doses, too much socialization is highly discouraged. Sweater thieves, who would leave gaps in the continuum of colors or patterns, as well as revolutionaries who would subvert the sweater harmony, are strictly prohibited. So are meddling mothers. The system works because my sweaters are obsequious. Unfortunately, there is a flaw, they also submit to my mother’s whims, allowing themselves to be re-sorted in accordance with her color sensibilities.

Underneath the utopian order of sweaters lies its antipode—a colorful chaos, a secret escape: a small wooden box filled with pastels. The box, in its design, is quite ordinary. Structured with neat and carefully spaced dividers; it seems to impose the same binding constrictions that govern the closet above. However, inside, the colors know no boundaries. The wooden shelves are graffiti-ed with a plethora of magnificent pigments. Indigos and raspberries blissfully mingle with tangerines and limes. Rebellious reds clumsily tumble over conservative charcoal grays. They lie in glorious disarray like the scattered bodies of revelers after an all-night party. I marvel at the messiness and take refuge in its infinite freedom. Here the hand of control cannot reach.
I inhabit two worlds: one tangible, material and regimented, the other ideal, abstract and ethereal. My controlled physical body is always in constant struggle with my inner boundless soul. Although I live in one more than the other—that sweater world characterized by discipline and order, my box represents the limitless world of my dreams. I do not get to spend enough time in the messiness of this open territory, but I have a haven in my box of pastels.
Drawing and painting is a form of self-definition and discovery. An artist can take on a new being through his or her creations. In the art world, Henri Rousseau’s work was viewed as naïve and primitive, he liked to paint jungles and seemingly simplistic, innocent human interactions with animals. However, he in fact had a difficult childhood marred by poverty. As an adult, he spent time in jail for theft and fraud. Although I am neither a criminal, nor a famous artist, I identify with the dichotomy in Rousseau’s life. He escaped the harshness of his existence with the purity and the simplicity of his art. For me, painting also provides liberation from the more banal constraints of my daily life. The blank canvas before me opens up new worlds and limitless possibilities.
When I pull out my box, I, like Rousseau, embark on an exploration of the unknown. As I reach into the jumble for a pastel, my fingers are inevitably coated with the sickly-green colored residue that lurks at the bottom of the container. In my orderly existence, touching any substance of such a nauseating color would cause me to recoil and seek salvation from the nearest Purell-dispenser or sink. However, here my hand is excited to embrace its old soft friends, co-creators of my past works. And I begin to draw.
My arm seems to have a mind of its own, giving shape and form to my every emotion. The slightly sticky pastel navigates its own path on the familiar, luxuriously thick paper. Happiness, anger, frustration and pride all manifest themselves willy-nilly. If I make a wrong turn, my palm simply flattens to rub away the aberrant stroke. A new path is revealed, the mistake becomes part of the foundation, giving the drawing more depth. While I instinctively know when my work is complete I often have no notion of how I arrived at the final product. My creations are chaotic—defined by quick curved lines that scream motion and unrealistic colors.
It is through this glorious confusion, the mess of colors that is my box of pastels, and the artwork that it generates, that I truly define myself. As Frida Kahlo said, “I paint my own reality.” My art, as expression, goes beyond my superficial obsession with order. I am not really the buttoned up conformist in the coordinated outfit, the true me is an artistic rebel.

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