You could say I stumbled headfirst into art clutching a stuffed blue elephant. It was amongst the earliest toys I can remember; standing on two hind feet, it was an upright anthropomorphic character with a vinyl face and trunk. I was all of five when my classroom teacher, who had branded me a slow learner to the rest of the class and had given me an F on the first art project I’d ever created for drawing a black rainbow, gave the class one of those sheets of paper with lines at the bottom and a blank space at the top and asked us to write an illustrate a story. I don’t remember the story, but I remember the blue elephant; without fail, I KNEW that if I could picture him in my mind, I could draw him. It was no doubt my first artistic thought.
A sickly child isolated in a rural community thirty minutes from the town where I went to school, I had no friends. It was rare anyone my age spoke to me. But I had dogs, and I had art. I graduated from tracing pictures of animals in reference books to copying them slavishly when in frustration I couldn’t see them beneath whatever surface I was trying to trace them through. By seventh grade, I had discovered classic literature and the great masters in the reference section of the school library while sequestered there during recess because my allergies wouldn’t allow me to go outside with the other children. It was that year that I was allowed to go to a local crafts store and take oil painting lessons and pick out my first sketch book and real art supplies for Christmas. After that, nothing much mattered to me but reading, writing, and painting.
I graduated with a degree in art education on a vocal music scholarship. I finished a masters in art, my undergraduate hours in English composition, and a masters in education in quick session. I met my idol, Audrey Flack, more than once during that time period and was stunned to have her take the time to speak to me privately and introduce me to the art community where I was exhibiting as “the kid.” “C’mere, kid,” she said with an arm around my shoulders, and dragged me into the crowd who was following her with a “you guys should go down the street and see her show. It’s really good.”
Those highs were followed by dark, lean years in an emotionally and verbally abusive marriage. While I was able to sustain an exhibition career because I did not have to work, I paid for it through a loss in personal confidence and identity and a gain of shame from which I have not yet recovered. I divorced, moved out on my own for the first time in my life, and finished an MFA in Interdisciplinary Art from Goddard College. There I learned who I was, what my art was really all about, and found my focus submerging myself inside a subculture of Vietnam veterans who were hard core bikers. “Thank you,” said a woman to me at one of my exhibitions, “for putting people like us on gallery walls.” People like us. Like me. The disenfranchised, the marginal, the feared, the mishappen, the misunderstood. The lonely.
The worst part of doing what I do is living a life in isolation. I struggle to work my day job and at night put in another eight hours juggling a career in art and photography and the necessity of being a caregiver. Every night I go to bed carrying agonizing loneliness and self-doubt…not in the art, but in myself. I struggle with the constant fear of whether I’ll be able to pay my mounting art supply and and photography equipment bills. I have no one to lean on but myself, my parrots, my dogs, and God. I cry – a lot. But through it all, there is the art. “Remember, the art is the most important thing,” a sculptor friend said to me over the phone when the nights grew so long that I didn’t want to see the morning.
It’s my mantra now. The art is the most important thing. It’s my breath, my heartbeat, my only constant partner. I am the art, and the art is me.
The light at the end of the tunnel is being able to share my work to larger and larger audiences. It’s wrapped up in bringing the misunderstood and feared together with the people who have rejected them. It’s in striving to bring educational experiences to others who have been deprived of them. It’s in collaborating with other artists. It’s in teaching. It’s in being recognized for what I am. It’s in the act of storytelling and pushing the boundaries of reality and fantasy.
It’s in having people look, see, and listen.
Would you help me on this journey? If you haven’t signed up for my email, list, please do at https://mailchi.mp/e3796cf90108/debilynn-fendley-newsletter. There you’ll find opportunities listed for artists, photographers, and models. You’ll find tips for art and photography, book reviews, and previews of coming work not available to others. You’ll get to learn more about my work and how I do it. And, of course, there will be giveaways, discounts, and opportunities to collect my work.
If you’ve never bought an original work of art, a fine art photograph, or a dream photography or lifestyle photo session, let me show you how you can make that possible. Sign up for that email list for instant access to me and my work. Love it. Own it. I can help you do that. I invite you to click the links on my website and explore my life in art. Would you like to be an even bigger part of my journey by becoming one of my art collectors? The biggest honor for an artist is to see one of her creations go into a home where it will be cherished and loved. Don’t believe the myth that art collecting is only for the wealthy or the highly educated. I do what I do because the wealthy already have their own collections and their own photographers. Join me. Click https://mailchi.mp/e3796cf90108/debilynn-fendley-newsletter and learn how.