Grief 160 is a series of paintings that capture 160 days of my personal grief journey after the death of my sister. The conceptual art installation is made up of 160 squares (measuring four inch by four inch) along with 4 significant squares from the series done on a larger scale and one really large canvas that reflects on my grief at the 3rd year anniversary of my sister’s death.
Conceptual art is art where the concept is more important than how the artwork looks. Grief 160 is driven by the concept of grief and the emotions felt while grieving. The decisions made for each painting were based on what I was feeling not what is aesthetically pleasing. Each color in the work represents a specific emotion and each square canvas represents an actual day in my life. The work reads like a calendar of emotions showing exactly what I was feeling, and when, throughout the days following the loss of my sister.
Except for the first 4 squares.
These squares are the 4 days before she died. The colors here do not match the emotional color grid that follows and instead highlight the difference between before loss and after. It’s a stark shift from bright, colorful swirls, moving about playfully, to dark, muted colors and straight lines. The first square with all straight lines is the day she died.
The key to the colors and what they represent is as follows:
Black = death (everyday begins with it, the realization of her death)
Dark Blue = sorrow
Purple = suffering (ache)
Red (line) = pain
Light Blue = sadness (depression)
Green = anxiety
Grey = numb/exhaustion
White = truth
Orange = frustration
Red (zigzag) = anger
Light Brown = ordinary
Yellow = hope
Pink = joy
Neon Green = fear
Most days the lines of color are horizontal across the canvas. The top of the canvas starts from when I awake, and emotions are experienced one after the other throughout the day until I fall asleep. Some days the lines of color are vertical representing days I felt a mix of emotions at the same time throughout the day. I kept a journal in the days following my sister’s death where I would name the emotions I felt and write them down on a calendar. I then used this record to paint from, taking three years to complete all 160 squares. I actually kept the journal for a whole year, but sadly lost the files and was only able to capture 160 days of that first year of the grief journey in paintings. It took three years for me to complete because grief sucks and life happens. There were other things going on in my life, other responsibilities and it was not always easy to sit down and stare this project in the face.
The making and revisiting of this artwork has been helpful and healing for me as I have grieved the loss of my sister. There are aspects of it that are deeply personal – as real days and real emotions from my life are exhibited in paint. It’s a self-portrait of my innermost person. But it’s also oddly universal. Death comes to everyone’s door at some point. We all experience loss. We all grieve. Your grief journey will look different from mine, but it will also have similar elements. Grief is unpredictable and unfolds unexpectedly in our day-to-day lives. And it lasts so much longer than 160 days. That’s only where the paintings stop.
Once I completed the paintings and put them all together – and time had passed and I could see beyond the realities of a single day – I noticed some things that surprised me.
1. How quickly the first sign of hope showed up even though it’s a thin line.
2. How muddled the painting itself is in the beginning; and how much more defined the lines become over time.
3. Just how many different emotions can be felt all in one day.
4. It takes a while for me to notice and show anger.
5. It takes even longer for fear to show up.
6. Every day is different and there is no logic.
You can read more about each square in the series on my Instagram where, last year, I posted all of Grief 160 following along the calendar of days that the paintings occupy. While the daily squares don’t continue past 160, I did revisit this concept 3 years after my sister passed, capturing an overall picture of where I was in my grief then. Two new colors/emotions showed up in the time that had passed: light purple = peace, aqua green = compassion.
This January will mark 10 years since my sister died. Might be time for another painting.