Inspired: the paintings of Lee Price

Lee Price, Boston Creme, 2011 Oil on Linen

When I discovered Lee Price and her hyperrealist paintings, I was captivated, specifically by her series on Women & Food. Let me reiterate – these are paintings, not photographs. The detail makes these works all seem so real at first glance but, alas, they are oil on canvas.

As someone who is currently trying to work through my relationship with food and my body, I could see bits of myself in each one.

Lee Price, Jelly Doughnuts, 2010 Oil on Linen

It’s not just about the food pictured – mostly processed junk food and sweets. It’s about the subtleties of shame felt when they’re consumed. It’s about the repetitive nature of indulging in these things in excess, and alone. It’s about numbing with sugary cereal at 11:30pm and scarfing down donuts in my sunday dress before heading off to church. These are things I may know something about.

Lee Price, Sunday, 2007, Oil on Linen

Lee Price, Cocoa Puffs, 2009, Oil on Linen

Lee Price, Butter, 2010, Oil on Linen

I wanted to know more about her, where she came from in creating this series, many which are self-portraits. In one interview she shared what sounded so close to my own story and the stories of many women I know:

“Since I was very young, I struggled with issues related to food and body image. I can remember being in grade school, the thinnest and tallest girl in my class, yet trying to loose weight. A critic once commented in regard to the subject matter of my paintings that “the women aren’t grossly fat or pathetically thin, but their lives seem to be oppressively ruled by food.” (Greg Stacy, OC Weekly, May 1, 2008)  And that would be a very accurate description of the role food has played in my life as I bounce between abstinence and complete loss of control. The loss of control comes when I use food to pacify myself and to fill voids other than physical hunger. I use it when I can’t conceive of more appropriate avenues for filling myself. Then I experience guilt over this loss of control and fear over weight gain, so the pendulum swings back to abstinence. It’s been a very, very long road to get to a less troubled place with food and I still gravitate in the direction of eating compulsively when my life is out of balance.”

Happy Meal, 2010 & Blueberry Pancakes II, 2011

I look back on my teen years up to this point right here and now and I see tons of disfunction and abuse in my relationship with food. I see a teen who was insecure, scared, and hurting. To an immature girl, the best way to take control of these feelings seemed to be an eating disorder. That teen still lives inside of me and once in awhile she raises her immature voice to say I should either binge on junk or starve myself in order to feel in control. That part of me resonated strongly with her painting, Refuge.

Lee Price, Refuge, 2009, Oil on Linen

I wrote in my last post about my choice to return to healthy habits in what I eat. It’s not so much a choice as a matter of fact. The stuff I have been feeding myself has been making me sick. After years of chronic pain and digestive problems, the migraines finally pushed me over the edge to make the choice to feed myself differently. The struggle for me lies in the same place within me that connects to these paintings. Unhealthy eating habits have become just that – habits. And habits, in my experience, are really difficult to break. Sure, I can cut out sugar, gluten, processed foods, alcohol, and cheese. But staying away from these vices when I want to feel comforted by them is going to take a militant retraining of my mind and my stomach.

Wish me luck. I don’t want another three week long migraine, but sometimes I just really want to eat chocolate cake.

Lee Price, Lisa in Tub With Chocolate Cake, 2009, Oil on Linen

In my core, though, I don’t want to continue the vicious cycle. Lees words are a timely, important reminder for me:

“As I’ve been working on my latest pieces, two new thoughts have been popping up. First, I’ve been considering how we give objects of obsession/compulsion (in this case, food) qualities that we should be giving to a higher source (e.g., God or our inner voice). We see food as sacred. In Blueberry Pancakes the model is seated in the tub in a posture that resembles meditation. She’s holding a solitary plate of pancakes in her lap as if she is worshipping it. However, the lower third of the painting, where the model is seated, is compositionally very busy, cut-up, and frenetic in comparison to the top portion of the canvas—behind the model there is peace, but she would have to put down the pancakes and turn around to see it. My second thought, and this one was initially unintentional, is about how compulsive behavior can snuff out your life. I mean this literally, as in the case of drugs or alcohol or even food if used to an extreme degree, but I also mean that this behavior deadens you. It anesthetizes people from their actual life. In Blueberry Pancakes, for example, I started to see the tub as a coffin.”

 

a deliberate return to health

2016 was a hard year. if you don’t know us, let me spell it out for you:

It started with a loud party, our city house full of neighbors and friends, loud, raucous, and most of them still there for breakfast the following morning. 

One year later our family was huddled up for a quiet New Year’s Day at our new house, miles outside of the city, under blankets watching castaway while zion napped. 

It’s a perfect picture of what the year did – it took the party out of us. 

2016 took the fight out of us, the free-for-all lifestyle of perpetual open doors, clinking glasses, and big table dinners and sleepovers. 

The party was followed soon after with an emergency brain surgery for Zion, who was four years old at the time. 

Brain surgery was followed with my first panic attack and a chain reaction of consistent panic and anxiety coursing through my body. 

We had already listed our house for sale and sold it by the time surgery came, so we had to find a place to move. Which meant we had to buy a house for our family on the fly. The dream of having a farm house with land was quickly replaced by finding a good-enough old house on a large lot close enough to drive to the Children’s hospital in 20 minutes.

We moved for good reasons – no other option, good school district for the kids, hope that we’d give them a more carefree childhood. But this also meant we moved away from our community, away from a five minute walk to dozens of people we loved, away from our support system.

Then came Zion’s seizures. They manifested in a tricky way so it was hard to diagnose at first.  

This lead to more frequent, severe seizures and eventually one, life-threatening mega-seizure, landing Zion in the pediatric ICU for a week, and our family in a new frame of living as he was finally put on epilepsy drugs.

Long story short, sometimes after a seizure, Zion just stopped breathing. So I had to be ready at any moment to do CPR and get him to the hospital.

By this time it was June, nearly half of the year gone to a constant blend of travel work abroad, hospital stays, anxiety, and seizures at home.

Things got harder before they got better.

Zion’s neurologists worked to find the “perfect cocktail” of epilepsy meds, while he continued to have seizures every three days.

The meds were personality altering and lead to a lot of confusion and emotional distress in our little one, not to mention stress in our home as we tried to navigate unknown waters.

We did what we could to find “normal” every chance we got, but were always reminded quickly not to make plans. Seizures change everything. From date night to dinner time, nothing was certain.

It wasn’t until the fall when we finally seemed to strike gold with a good blend of medications, saw Zion’s seizures decrease, and started to live a somewhat normal life again.

……………….

I am sure I’ll be unpacking the effects of that year for a long time. There were dozens of other stressors and painful factors, relationally and otherwise, that affected my psyche in harmful ways. What I am beginning to see now is one particular overlooked factor. We got stressed, frazzled, busy and overwhelmed and, pardon my French, but

WE ATE LIKE SHIT.

We numbed with food like a drug, which is easy to do in the children’s hospital. With endless supplies of vanilla milkshakes, pudding, and macaroni and grilled cheese, it’s so easy to thoughtlessly fill one’s body with mood-altering drugs. It’s easy to get diner at a drive through on the way home from another doctor’s appointment, another stressful day. “While we’re at it, why not get drive-through fast food for lunch?”

When it comes to what we put in our bodies, the past year has not been a pretty picture. We forgot that food is fuel, that we are what we eat. We’ve been using it to numb and mask symptoms of pain and anxiety instead of using it to heal.

I believe these habits have lead me here, on the tail end of three weeks of uncontrollable migraine pain and no other option (apart from taking four risky prescription drugs at once) but to change what I eat.

I believe the biggest source of my migraine attacks has been what I’ve put into my gut. 

I believe stress has been the other major trigger. 

I’ve had plenty of time the past few weeks to read up on migraine and how gut health affects brain function / disfunction. Here’s what I’ve come up with : Gut health = brain health.

There’s only so much I can do to lower / control my stress. I plan on doing what I can, within reason.

BUT there are a TON of things I can do to control what I put in my body, and in turn, how it runs.

From what I’ve learned so far, there is a serious correlation between gut health. So I’m going to be sharing more about that here, because I think it’s fascinating stuff and I don’t want to make these discoveries alone or keep them to myself. I’m also writing about it because it’s more than a fad this time. It’s a necessary move to get my life back and my mind back.

I’m going back to the source. The source of where all health originates – what goes in my gut.

 

* photo credit Land Army girls picking peas at a farm near Wolverhampton in July 1947

for grace, grace, grace.

 

I can only imagine that there are thousands of people speaking up all over the country and the internet about the executive orders signed this past week. Living with no television and no social media leaves me in a place where I don’t have the opportunity to see what is being said, and by whom. I did receive a text from my sister in law, Annie, sharing something she posted on Facebook this weekend:

“American Lives are not worth more than Syrian lives. Christian lives are not worth more than Muslim lives. And I say this as an American Christian. Beyond devastated at the events of the last 24 hours, and committed to calling bullshit for as long as it takes”

I thanked her and told her this needs to be shared, that ours is a faith in a God who loves and welcomes to an unfathomable degree. For our dear friends who don’t call themselves Christians, some who’ve been burned by the church, let me say this on behalf of myself and my family : First, we are so sorry and sad over the damage done and harm inflicted by the church throughout history and even this week. We hope and pray your harmful experiences with the Christian community are not pervasive, that you don’t feel barred from experiencing the love of God simply because of a few vocal communities are preaching only judgment. And we hope you know we love and care for you and respect you.

Professing ourselves as Christians does not mean that our family approves of the actions leaders of our country have taken this week. Our family is not set on a fearful agenda against anyone. No one is overlooked or too far from the grip of God’s love and grace because we’re not. I have the capacity in my human bones for every type of weakness, wrong, or evil that could ever exist, yet I’ve been rescued by a God who has pursued his creation in love. This means we are FOR the wild love of God, who is not scared away by a person from any religion, people group, criminal record, sexual orientation, or anyone who looks, lives, or votes differently than we do.

I look at the life of Jesus and I see him as God in the flesh, living a human life perfectly. So I can only deduce that what I see him doing is what I should be doing, too. I see Jesus drawing close to and speaking out for the poor, the sick, the hungry, the outcasts, the marginalized, the diseased, those whom the religious of the day wouldn’t even touch, speak to, or look upon. I see him eating with the notorious ones, the deviants, the disabled, giving dignity to those who have been written off by the religious elite as dangerous, hell bound sinners. I see him consistently extend love, grace, and an open invitation for these people to know him, to eat with him, to spend their lives with him.

I also see Jesus in the gospels expressing anger and discouragement over the religious leaders of the day. I see his intolerance for religious pride and a faith that does not lead with grace and service to those who live in the dark valleys of doubt and sickness. I see him chastise, name call, and publicly shame the religious contingent, the Pharisees. I see him call them out on their sins while he seeks to defend the ones they are harshly accusing and threatening.

From what I know about Jesus, I believe he is heartbroken over the events of the past week. 

I believe he is devastated that his name would be invoked while the very people he sought out in his life are pushed aside, many turned away to die. 

I believe he is with those who feel alone and without hope. That he longs to comfort them as they are turned away from the place they were seeking solace, the place they were to reunite with family or start a new life. 

I believe he is angry and turning over tables again that the place that the leaders of a country claiming to be a Christian nation would turn away hurting and needy people of other faiths who are in danger, while promising “Christians” will be made exceptions for.

I believe he hurts for every soul who has been cast out or pushed down by this administration, and he longs to be their comfort.

I believe he sits and weeps with the young girl who has been raped and is now performing her own back alley abortion, about to lose the life of her baby and her own, out of fear, shame, and desperation. He loves the unborn and the born without exception.

I believe he is pro-all-life.

If Jesus doesn’t care and seek out those who are the lost and last and least and left out, then it must not be the Jesus I know, the Jesus laid out clearly in the gospels. In the gospels, we see a Jesus who leads with service and empathy, submitting a kind Father who leads with service and empathy. He considers us, he knows we are dust. He knows our weakness and inability to save ourselves. And in his inexplicable love, he opens up the universe wide, intervenes into our history and takes our dirt upon himself, being buried in it. I believe the true Christian life is one of clinging to this and always remembering we are being invited in every day by unmerited love, based on our need for grace, and grace alone.

This is a small summary of what my family and I believe, but we will not use that belief to push aside anyone who believes differently. I am not God, I’m human. Which means I’m not the authority and I’m not infallible. I recognize my beliefs are based on my experiences, my journey, my heart’s leadings, my perspective. Even in this, it must all come back to compassion and grace, grace, grace.

As Martin Luther – true originator of Evangelical Christianity – said:

“If you are a preacher of grace, then preach a true and not a fictitious grace; if grace is true, you must bear a true and not a fictitious sin. God does not save people who are only fictitious sinners. Be a sinner and sin boldly, but believe and rejoice in Christ even more boldly, for he is victorious over sin, death, and the world. As long as we are here [in this world] we have to sin. This life is not the dwelling place of righteousness, but, as Peter says, we look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. It is enough that by the riches of God’s glory we have come to know the Lamb that takes away the sin of the world. No sin will separate us from the Lamb, even though we commit fornication and murder a thousand times a day. Do you think that the purchase price that was paid for the redemption of our sins by so great a Lamb is too small? Pray boldly – you too are a mighty sinner.”

Or, as Jeremy reminded me, modern day poet Kanye, once said,

To the hustlers, killers, murderers, drug dealers even the strippers
(Jesus walks for them)
To the victims of welfare for we living in hell here, hell yeah
(Jesus walks for them)

To my/our friends who profess Christian faith and are sharing publicly, we encourage you to offer your friends and followers the gracious invitation to be loved by a God who isn’t afraid of them, who doesn’t close his doors to them, who stopped at nothing to show them this. I hope the grace we’ve received in Christ allows us to see our own sin for what it is, and extend that grace to others in compassion and fearlessness. This week’s events, as heartbreaking as they were, can be seen as a call to fight for the Christianity displayed by Christ himself, one honoring human dignity, value, and worth. Filled with love, and grace upon grace.

with love,

ash (and Jeremy, too)

 

references:

Mark 10:46

James 1:27

Matthew 11:25-26

Matthew 11:28-29

Matthew 12:9-14

Matthew 12:34

Matthew 23:33

Matthew 7:1-5

Matthew 5:42

Mark 11:15-18

Mark 10: 13-16

John 8:1-11

Philippians 2:5-8

Micah 7:19

Psalm 103:12

2 Corinthians 5:19-21

Micah 6:8

1 John 2:1-1

Titus 3:5

Romans 7:23

Romans 3:9

Matthew 5:27-28

Matthew 5:22

Mark 8:11-13

Mark 7:5-8

Mark 1:40-43

Luke 7:36-50

Luke 23:39-43

Psalm 103:14

Ephesians 2:8-9

Galatians 2:16

Romans 5:1-2

John 15:5

Romans 3:21-28

Isaiah 64:6

Luke 19:1-10

Luke 18:35-43

Luke 9:46-48

Luke 8:43-56

Psalm 139

John Newton, “Advantages From Remaining Sin,” Select letters of John Newton (repr. Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 2011), 151.

quote: Letter to Melanchthon, I August 1521, in Gottfried Krodel, trans., Luther’s Works, vol. 48 (Philadelphia: Fortress 1963

Jesus Walks, Kanye West

The Jesus Storybook Bible, by SallyLloyd-Jones