My dentist was really nice, with a big smile and wide eyes. All of her helper dentists wore Tinkerbell scrubs and had big smiles too. The waiting room had a PlayStation and the only game it had was Crash Bandicoot, but I loved it. Whenever I got my teeth cleaned, I could pick a fluoride flavor - my favorite was called Cherry Cheesecake. After we were all done, she would lead me downstairs so I could pick from the fully-stocked prize shelf while she updated my mom on how everything in my mouth was still bright, white and in line.
The ceilings of the exam rooms were painted in pastels - soft blues, pinks and whites, murals of castles, flying horses and puffy clouds. Reclined in the exam chair, my dentist would be staring in to my mouth as I stared up at this magical, pastel sky - mesmerized.
Okay, so maybe some of this dental hygienic magic has faded with the years.
The fun of it all probably started to slip away when I was eleven and had to come in every month to get my braces adjusted. Somewhere in the fall of seventh grade, I remember dancing through the middle school halls, telling whoever I could that I was getting my braces off that afternoon. 3pm came around and I was all situated in the reclining chair with the wire adjusters glaring at me from the table for what I thought was going to be the last time. My dentist and her Tinkerbell-clad assistants buzzed around me, just as excited as I was. She began removing the brackets on each tooth, one-by-one. She finished the top set, and waved over a Tinkerbell to see. They walked out of the room, whispering. When they came back, the buzzing had stopped, and I was informed that the metal in my mouth would actually have to stay on for another month at least. Everything they had just taken off had to go right back on. And that extra month turned in to three.
I guess it was kind of downhill after that. The monthly, and then yearly, check-ups became filled with elaborate dances of me lying about wearing my retainers even though the proof evident in my shifting teeth. Then there was always the lecture about my diet-coke consumption and how sugar - even the fake kind - erodes the enamel. And then, some time during my rebellious teenage phase (distinct from my rebellious adult phase) I had my tongue pierced, and she totally didn't think that was as cool as I did (she was right). And all throughout was the progression of my eating disorder, which undoubtedly caused the most damage to my oral health, as well as my overall disdain and dread for any doctor's office. I have not been to the dentist in three years.
I think these experiences, negative and probably inevitable, are what caused the once soft and airy pastel colors on the ceiling to become muddied. Castles turned to dungeons, floating horses became dragons.
I began this painting with leftover colors. I was hesitant to use them, I didn't think they worked all that well together. But my disdain for wasting paint out weighed my hesitance to use clashing colors, and alas, "Pulling Teeth" was brought forth from my brush.
As I mixed and added white, I was struck with the familiarity of the hues. It was those pastels - pinks and blues, swirling together like the ceiling on my childhood dentist's exam room. The colors looked just as soft on my palette as they did in my memories. But when I was finished and all the images buried in the back of my mind had escaped to the canvas, the colors had become much darker, much more muddied. Like my memories of the dentist, now tinted by experience, the landscape is more indefinable. Part of me wants to cling to the soft and airy - the blues in the sky and the pastel pinks reflected below, but the disruption of the dark tower, the looming clouds and dawning midnight are jarring and undeniable.
The broad range of emotion experienced in just one place, even something as innocuous as a childhood dentists office, is hard to capture when you come in with that intention. I've found that these rich nuances and deeper complexities emerge when I least expect it - in both life and the studio - and only become truly illuminated upon further reflection. As I dive deeper in to my understanding of my existing painting practice with the help of new mindfulness strategies and ways of looking, I look forward to, yet also slightly fear, all of these small illuminations coming to light. I also am looking to distill these revelations of experience in to ways to instruct students, integrating our understanding of the arts as ways of documenting, reflecting on and expressing these everyday, profound experiences that enrich our complex lives.