Musings on the Painter’s Jumpsuit

PJ-VERY SERIOUS

This was a white jumpsuit that I painted. I don’t wear all white clothes. I am not too fond of the idea of wearing anything absent of color. So I bought this white jumpsuit with the intention of painting it. But didn’t know how, until I got inspired by this advertisement by WRAY , a fashion line, promoting their “Norma” jumpsuit. WRAY actually sells it in white, not with the paint on it. Right away, I knew this was my next art project!

WRAY PJ
So where would I wear something like this? I immediately thought of my upcoming High School reunion. I went to LaGuardia HS, an art high school in New York City. I knew I wanted to wear something artsy so I thought of painting this jumpsuit as an ode to the artist. As I painted, these two ideas popped into my head; the painter’s jumpsuit as metaphor for artist practice and process.
PRACTICE
While I was painting, I thought “you are going to prance into your HS reunion wearing this “painter’s jumpsuit” as if you seamlessly went from art school to artist without skipping a beat, Hipócrita ! You haven’t been in the studio for a very long while!” Or have I?
Whether I am actively making art or not, I, WE, are always in our “studio”; thinking and planning, out our next life project. I know for sure that I am always working on projects in my head as I go about my day. I gather inspiration from everywhere; my kids, church, the museum job, my colleagues, friends. I am always wearing the paint suit. And then I execute; I make small collages, I cut a sewing pattern, I sew a seam here and there and it eventually becomes a garment, I type pages of iPhone notes for future projects, blog posts, books, and I find time to make some brush strokes on a garment. Today green, tomorrow yellow… making a mark, a mark that wasn’t there before. Making MY mark little by little.

PJ-FACE CUT OFF

Close -up of brushstrokes made with fabric paint

I’m always wearing the paint suit, always art working. Maybe it’s not in a physical space, producing a consistent, connected collection, a steady practice, but it’s my practice, for right now and I’m embracing it.
PROCESS
Ah!, the idea of the painter’s jumpsuit; so white, pristine, worn to the art studio to protect one’s real clothes, a uniform to catch the paint not meant for the canvas. But wait a minute. Maybe those paint strokes that don’t make the cut, that don’t make it to the masterpiece, these are meant for something else, maybe nothing is wasted. Maybe the painter’s jumpsuit speaks of process.
We’re used to thinking of process as chaotic, unorganized, ugly. But maybe the process has a place on display. Maybe it doesn’t have to be hidden. Maybe while we are in process, we can still shine.
PJ-CLOSE UP SMILE

And truth be told, These random “discarded” strokes on this jumpsuit have seen more than the studio painting might ever. So far, I’ve worn it to my H.S. reunion, church, and a video screening. And now here. These cast-off strokes are now art; photographed, made into a sort of performance art, if you will, for all of you to see. The process can be seen, beautiful, and worthy.

PAINTER'S JUMPSUIT, ARTIST JUMPSUIT COLLAGE

NELLIE ESCALANTE AT PRIDA SCREENING

I wore my painted jumpsuit to a screening documenting the two-person collective that make up SAVIANA ARTS.  PHOTO: Olga Ayala, 2019

We are used to telling of the mountain top experience and very little about how we got there. I tell you one thing, more people care about my journey as a special needs mom and less about all I have accomplished. It’s the nitty gritty, the process, that people are interested in and, sometimes, inspired by. That’s the work of the muse. 

PJ-FULL SMILING ON WALL

 

And maybe that’s it. We all wear the painter’s suit giving us the potential to be the muse, the process, the artist, and the art at various stages of life, or all at once.

How are you wearing the painter’s jumpsuit at this stage in your life?

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“Disability Awareness” does not have to be your New Cause

ASK WAKES YOU COME ALIVE - QUOTE

Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive. – Howard Thurman

Let me just start by saying that I have met some amazing moms of special needs children who are now championing the cause. I am in debt to them and truly need them in my life. I look to them when I need encouragement, inspiration, perspective, or tangible help with a specific problem.

I also feel that people need me, and my perspective. Let me explain.

After my kids were diagnosed I knew I had to somehow reinvent my life in a meaningful way, a way that would redeem this experience. At first, I thought that autism would be my new cause. Forget marching for political prisoners, feeding the hungry, bringing gifts to children who had a parent in prison, championing the cause of creativity in the classroom, bringing spirituality back to the arts, teaching young Latinos the value of their culture (all of which I was very interested in pre-kids). My new cause was now autism, because this is what is affecting me most right now, this is my new life. Can you hear me trying to convince myself?

But frankly, when the autism walks came, I didn’t feel a pull to join. The thought of walking with my kids in the hot sun (the walk is in June) hearing one complaining the whole way while trying to hold on to the other, did not appeal to me. Even if I left the kids home and walked by myself, I did not want to hire a babysitter or have my hubby take care of the kids so that I can do something outside of the home that was autism related. I was so bogged down with the day to day that I rather go out with my girlfriends or have a date with my husband. That would have been more self-caring. But I struggled with how I could continue to be of service while mothering my special needs children. It doesn’t mean I am not an advocate for my children. But I also don’t want to be the poster mom for autism. Autism is not my brand.

As I continued to try to find meaning through this experience, I went on to the next idea. I could be a special education teacher. Before Dan was born, I was already on route to becoming a certified art teacher, I’ll just change course and do my specialization in special education. I would make the perfect special education teacher because I have special needs kids myself. Who better to understand special needs children than me? I thought that this is what the world needed, a special education teacher who knew the ins and outs of a special needs child. Again, trying to convince myself but you don’t have to convince yourself of your passion. I had to ask myself, “is this my passion?” A resounding “ NO!” came from the depths of my inner being. Would I have thought of becoming a special education teacher if my kids did not have special needs? Again, “NO!” Did this idea make me come alive? “NO, NO and NO!” There are many special education teachers with special needs children of their own and this makes them come alive. This is indeed a beautiful thing but I had to realize that I would not be of any service if I didn’t do what made me come alive. I did not have to make autism my cause just because my kids have autism. This was a hard lesson for me to learn because I felt that the only way to make this difficult, sometimes gut-wrenching experience meaningful and worth it was to be spokesperson for this issue. I felt a duty to bring uber awareness to this cause through everything I did. I was called, chosen by God, and I must now follow. But God does not work that way. The Bible says Jesus came to give us life, and life to the fullest (John 10:10). A cause shouldn’t be a burden, it should make your life full. Now that I was convinced that this was not my path, I also felt I had to take on the task of convincing others.

“A cause shouldn’t be a burden, it should make your life full.” – Nellie Escalante

As a special needs mom, you have to heed the challenge and find that which makes your heart sing, and then you have to do it! Because, let me tell you, when you have a special needs child(ren), one of the things that is going to get you through to the next moment, give you patience, give you some sense of sanity and power, is your passion. This does not have to be your job. I understand that many of us take jobs to make ends-meat and sometimes it takes a lot of time to make a passion turn into money. But you need to find something that makes you come alive. That very well can be opportunities connected to special needs and that is great and fine. But if what makes you come alive is not directly related to special needs, that’s is quite okay too.

What makes you come alive?

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