My Mother and I, United By Art

August 23, 2019 · 5 min read

Visual art has always been a concept in my life, starting right from birth.  The walls of my home were decorated with paintings and drawings that my mother created, all in various media.  A watercolor painting of the Grand Canyon.  A charcoal drawing of a rabbit.  A woodblock carving of a sumo wrestler.  A silkscreen print of Franz Liszt.  My mother told me of how she loved traveling and how she used to live in Japan, and so these images served to piece together her life story, that occurring before I was born. 

I created my own art as a toddler myself, much of this activity facilitated by my mother.  I went through packs and packs of watercolor paints and crayons.  I created my own Rorschach-style ink blots by using fabric paints on paper and folding them in half, churning them out like lightning.  I was even allowed to scribble on the walls of our apartment.  There is not a single family photo without a little scribble in the background.

My favorite art form above all was origami.  My mother had a couple of origami books that mesmerized me, its pages showing instructions for the most intricate of designs of animals, from peacocks to lions and bears.  Being just a little child, I didn’t have the motor skills to create complete these, but I managed easier things like happy coats, hats, frogs and “pomanders,” a six-sided ball with a flat panel for each side.  Pomanders were my favorite.

Watching my mother create origami was entrancing.  She had patient hands, and every crease and fold she made was magically precise, even imbued with a mystical sense of peace.  I still notice this same phenomenon when she folds clothes.

My mother churned out a bunch of lovely creatures, which became toys for me.  In the kitchen at my grandmother’s house, at the window of next to the dining table, about twenty paper rabbits in assorted colors lined the window sill.  A vase contained paper roses hot-glued onto long metal stems wrapped in dark green crepe paper.

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It was a sad day when I started kindergarten.  The art teacher at school, an elderly woman near retirement, spoke with a loud and bleating voice, seemingly designed specifically for harassing young innocent kids.  For art assignments, we would be given sheets to color in.  I colored outside the lines and she offered no encouragement of that.  At the end of classes, she would praise two specific students who colored in the lines perfectly, showing the class their work so that we knew to copy it.

The brimming love I had for art immediately shrank into a pea.  Art was no longer a medium for expressing freely, but instead a method of demanding obedience and compliance.  When I came home from school, I stopped creating art, telling my mother, “I’m no good at art.”  This devastated my mother.

I was not optimist much about my artistic capacities during my elementary years, but I experienced a new strand of artistic empowerment during middle school.  The teacher was a hip professional artist in his own right, and I enjoyed his assignments.  I delved into abstract art, and also drew a lot of homages to Mystery Science Theater 3000, my favorite TV show at the time.

For a myriad of difficult reasons, I developed suicidal depression in the seventh grade.  While I felt hopeless and useless, the respect and maturity of this art teacher caused me to feel a bit of respite in his classroom.  While I bore the brunt of highly aggressive teasing and bullying during other classes and recess, this was absent in art class.  I suppose the other students felt happier and less inclined to harass me.

Due to my suicidality, my mother transferred me to an alternative private school for eighth grade, where I remained through all of high school.  Fortunately, the school had an extensive art program, with four periods of class time sheerly dedicated to art.  The medium we used switched every month, so I was able to create a myriad of works.  There was drawing with oil pastels and charcoal, calligraphy and illuminated letters, creating busts with clay, paper making, book binding, lineolium and woodblock carving, woodworking and stone carving.  My favorite creation was a stained glass piece, depicting a scene from Gilbert and Sullivan’s operetta, Iolanthe.  The image was based off of a promotional poster of the play’s premier, occurring in 1882.

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My Room (by Neesa Sunar)
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My Room (by Neesa Sunar)
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As a skinny teenager, my mother introduced me to clothing that she has stitched when she herself was in high school in the mid-60s.  There was a tweed coat, a bright orange A-line dress made of upholstery fabric (her prom dress), a halter top dress of dark green, and a red paisley dress (purchased).  There were other items I was too afraid to wear, like a gray fringe one piece suit, a matte pleather one piece suit and huge pants made of shiny silver and green upholstery fabric. 

The artistic acceptance I experienced at the private school restored my self-confidence in my capacities as a visual artist.  Much of my “work” is displayed on my bedroom walls, the clutter all stimulating my mind, each piece representing a phase or story in my life.  There are oil pastel portraits of women that I did while hospitalized for mental health reasons.  There are little knickknacks and random things that I have collected from yard sales.  There’s also a large cork board that has pins and papers and even finger puppets affixed to it.  

These days, collage is my favorite art form.  As a hobby, i receive postcards from around the world, and I use these to create little mini collages that decorate my walls.  While taking a month off from work to recover from foot surgery, I created eight highly intricate collages, with images ripped and cut from high-end art books.

I have realized that the creation of art is a highly intuitive process.  It is not about following rules and coloring in the lines.  It is about putting the brush to the paper, and then letting it draw itself.  Letting the painting reveal itself to the artist.  With collage, it is about flipping through books until intuition pulls me to a random picture, which I cut out and put aside.  When working on the main piece, intuition again beckons me to glue on something I’ve cut, and then the picture evolves in its own direction once affixed.

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This phenomenon manifests in my process of writing as well.  This medium being my strongest artistic strength, I again experience intuition as an intelligence outside of myself, which beckons me to choose topics and specific words as I write.  Again, articles and stories write themselves.

These days, my mother dedicates herself to knitting and sewing, selling the items online to donate to a favorite charity.  Her hands are arthritic, which limits her ability to only use medium and thicker yarns and a stitching machine.  But yet again, her patient hands churn out the most precise of work, giving it an almost spiritual glow.

My mother’s artistry served to give me an enriched childhood.  By empowering me to create my own art, I learned not to follow trends and fashions blindly.  I learned to think for myself, and had no shame in having preferences contrary to pop culture.  Most of all, I loved classical music, and completely eschewed all else.

I do not consider myself to be the best visual artist, but I am glad that I can access artistic intuition when I create.  In my opinion, the sense of letting go and letting art create itself is the most enriching part of the creative process and artistic experience.

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About the Author:

Neesa Sunar is a mental health advocate who resides in Queens, NYC. She is employed at a housing agency that provides housing to people with mental illness disabiltiies, working as a peer specialist. As a peer, she publicly discloses her own experiences with having schizoaffective disorder and anxiety, so as to empower and empathize with those she works with. She is also a student at the Silberman School of Social Work at Hunter College, and is expected to graduate in December 2019. Neesa advocates for the mental health cause online. She is the founder and head admin of a mental health discussion/support group on Facebook, called "What is Wellness? A Mental Health Discussion Group," with membership totaling over 2,000. She is also a freelance writer who has been published on many sites, including VICE, The Establishment, Ravishly and Huffington Post.

4 thoughts on “My Mother and I, United By Art

  • CindiAugust 23, 2019 at 4:33 pm

    Beautifully written. Thank you for sharing a deeper part of art and awareness of school’s suppression of any and all brilliance “outside of the lines” this is crucial for me as a mom of a brilliant little abstract artist and creator! Much love!

  • Robert WertzlerAugust 24, 2019 at 2:48 am

    You were very lucky to have such a talented mother who could inspire so much.

    • Oleksandra LykhoshvaiAugust 27, 2019 at 8:07 pm

      Cindi, thank you very much for your interest and comment. Your words inspired our writer even more. Please don’t miss the 2nd part upcoming Sunday, which is going to be even deeper.

    • Oleksandra LykhoshvaiAugust 27, 2019 at 8:08 pm

      Robert, thank you for your comment. Very sweet of you. We recommend not to miss the 2nd part of the story upcoming Sunday


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