I am an advocate of art as metaphor. I tend to pay more attention to the experience of creating art and the experience of sitting with a piece over time than the actual content of the piece. I also lean toward the abstract, finding the ambiguity and possibilities in a piece to be an invitation to learn more about myself or the observer.
This piece got me thinking about the process of uncovering the past and trauma work.
It began as a compilation from older collage. After months of staring at it, I decided it was time consider its possibilities. I considering something a little more peaceful (with suggestions of water and land). The results don’t always match my initial intent.
To do this I masked several strips to resemble trees on a shoreline or reflections in water. I decided it was easier to mask off the figures I wanted to appear in the foreground areas rather than attempt to create a background layer around vertical collage strips.
Masking is a process in which artists use tape or something similar to block off a part of a painting to protect an area from paint or bleeding. (Just as house painters do to protect trim).
After putting the tape in place I sloshed my paint over the bottom third of the collage in horizontal brush strokes. The painting looked messy but experience reminded me that once the masking was removed that would change.
Relating Trauma to Masking
When undergoing stress or traumatic events, coping can be like masking. In some cases, on a neurobiological level, the brain, in a sense, masks over an event as a form of protection. This neurological response can be a necessary mechanism that allows the individual some amount of protection for at time. It is effective in allowing someone in trouble or pain to survive and get through difficulty. As a result, events may never be fully processed which can account for gaps in memory, loss of positive memories, feelings of being undone, or ill ease. Neurobiological responses to stress can become troublesome when the flight or fight responses become overactive. Troubles such as: addictions, depression, anxiety, phobias, rage, numbing to emotion, heart disease, PTSD and relationship problems are often associated with responses to stress.
The Art of the Unmasking, and Respect for the Uncovering Process
Timing is important when removing the masking media from the art piece:
- Stripped to early and the paint could bleed and run.
- Stripped to quickly or to late and the piece could be damaged.
My experience with this piece, being a collage, was even more tricky. It was built with layers and layers of stripped paper and I found it extremely difficult to distinguish the masking from the collage strips. In some areas I had completely covered the masking tape with paint, so it was not only hard to find the tape but a messy process as well. In my hurry to see results I picking at collage strips exposing raw canvas. More tools were necessary, using a knife, a wet sponge, feedback from family, and repairing and retouching the raw areas were all part of the process. In the end, I felt good about the results.
Before Uncovering the a Painful or Traumatic Past the Following Concerns are Common:
What is ready to be uncovered?
Where do I start?
Can I trust that I will find something valuable underneath?
What happens when I uncover something raw?
Will I lose who I am if I start the process?
Where does it stop will there be any of me left when the process is through?
Why uncover what is covered, what can I do about it?
Why open an old wound, it will just bleed everywhere?
How long will it take?
Why It Matters
The masking serves a purpose, for a time. Over time, painful memories, unfinished business (shame, guilt, un-forgiveness) or trauma left unprocessed become troublesome. Maintaining the protective layers, rather than processing what lies beneath can be related to:
lost sleep worry avoidance fragmented relationships Nightmares avoidance of activities detachment from others restricted emotions angry outbursts difficulty concentrating lack of enjoyment in activities
What Can I Do?Remember masking serves a purpose, and it may still be a necessary element of coping. Recognize that care must be taken to respect masking. Get help, find safety, remember there is hope. Find support, support groups, agencies, books, organizations, supportive people, professionals National Hotlines If you or someone you know would like to explore this area of healing, consider professional help. If you would like more information or a free consultation with a therapist please fill out the form below: Your information will be used solely for this purpose.
- Disaster Distress Helpline [24/7 hotline]
- National Alliance on Mental Illness
- National Domestic Violence Hotline
1-800-799-7233 or 1-800-787-3224 (TTY)
- Parents of Murdered Children
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
1-800-273-TALK (8255) [24/7 hotline]
- Victim Service Connect Directory