Over the last few years, I've used these two boys calmly playing as a visual shorthand for my artwork. They represent a playfulness and curiosity that I feel while making things, but that I struggle to find elsewhere. Where else can I freely play and experiment without fear of failure or consequence?
As an adult, years of making mistakes and learning to tame my expectations has narrowed my will to try new things, learn new things, and explore new places. I seek the comfort of the familiar and find it difficult to traverse into the unknown.
But when I was a child, the world was big and full of hope; not limited by caution. When I was four years old, my friends and I spent an afternoon plotting how to tricycle from New York to Florida. I told them that my family had done the drive a few times and it only took a couple days, and imagined us tricycling on the shoulder of the Virginia highway, small enough to squeeze by traffic jams. I imagined us pulling up to my grandparents' house and docking our bikes in the garage. I never considered that it was a 1,300 mile journey. I was disappointed when my dad chuckled that he didn't think it was a great idea.
The two boys above I observed playing in a sandbox in the Place des Vosges. While their guardian read the paper on a nearby bench, the boys faced a stone ledge and quietly played and built with the sand. I couldn't see what they were building, couldn't hear what they were saying, and I never saw their faces.
In literature, it is the protagonist's experiences and how they see the world that we relate to most - not their appearance. Their appearance is suggested, but ultimately they are invisible and our mind creates a rendering of them that is filtered by our own experience. In this drawing, the absence of a face and an expression offers the same loose definition, so that it is easier to project one's experience onto a group of characters and their relationship. And while we may not know what exactly these playmates are building because their bodies obscure their work, the viewer faces the world from their perspective and their imagination is triggered to fill in the blanks. Much like we used our imagination as children to dream big and see where we end up.
To me, I relate the boy in the yellow jacket to creativity. I imagine him sitting comfortably, looking out past the benches and trees and his mind traveling well beyond the park. I see the boy in the black jacket as the mind wondering whether to keep the imagination in check, but for now letting it roam free. He crouches, rather than nestling into the sand and getting too invested. In a way, I see the teetering back and forth of the brain while making something new, pushing past doubt, and deciding how to feel.
What do you see?
Hannah Dunscombe is a painter and portrait artist based out of Brookline, MA.