• Tyra Johnson

Art Explained: Ambivalence

I struggled with this piece — hell, I struggled with this blog post. I cycled through confusion, frustration, anger, sadness, doubt (sometimes all at once). That my friends, is ambivalence.

Original Artwork by Tyra Johnson. Abstract portrait in mixed media on canvas
Ambivalence | By Tyra Johnson – May 2019


[ am-biv-uh-luh ns ]


1. uncertainty or fluctuation, especially when caused by inability to make a choice or by a simultaneous desire to say or do two opposite or conflicting things.

2. Psychology. the coexistence within an individual of positive and negative feelings toward the same person, object, or action, simultaneously drawing him or her in opposite directions.

Growing up, my parents used to tell me "The world can be scary and people aren't always good. But ya gotta keep on livin' ". They weren't the first to say it and certainly won't be the last. Events in the past few months' (arguably years) have been a firm reminder of just how true that saying is. In case you've been living under a rock, here's a select few that hit home for me in no specific order:

•Decriminalization of domestic abuse abroad: On what planet would we take an illegal violent act punishable with jail time and make it legal again? Oh yeah, this planet.

•A violent revolution in Sudan received grossly inadequate global intervention: We're talking paramilitary massacre and no one managed to step in. •Legislation banning abortion in parts of the U.S.: Roe V Wade happened for a reason. There are plenty of comments I have on this one but this is not a political blog so I'll stop here. •Legislation making abortions a felony in parts of the U.S. (because this deserves it's own bullet point) •Continued police brutality and murder of African Americans in the U.S.: When does enough become enough here?

Despite the injustice, violence, and human rights atrocities we gotta keep livin'. But does going on with life mean you disregard what others are going through? Does it mean you don't have feelings, thoughts, and opinions about how people are treated? How do you reconcile the changes that effect you personally? How do you mentally sort through all of the–for lack of a better word – shit?

I can't answer any of those questions for you. But for myself and my sanity, I paint. I donate and volunteer where I can; however, the only way I've successfully quieted my mind is through art. That's why this piece challenged me. I struggled to convey multiple emotions in one piece. Color choice was almost the death of this painting. I mixed and mixed and mixed. A few of my thoughts:

"this blue is too blue and not blue enough...if I add red it'll be too much...4th of July vibes....I want show anger and frustration but not outright rage...how many colors is too many....wait, that looks awful....but also maybe good...how many textures is overwhelming...but I like my palette knives damn it...I'm wasting. so. much. paint...*splatter in frustration at canvas* YES!splatter more but not too much..."

So, maybe that was the comedic relief for this post! But in all seriousness, suddenly, around layer six it was coming together. The muted navy perfectly captured the melancholy we carry around. Not outright sad, because it isn't exactly "our" problem, but we feel terrible for the people going through it. Just a cloud in the back of our brains that won't quite clear up. Rust orange for that persistent frustration. Why are we moving backwards? Why are we undoing the good so many people fought for? The palette knife work to represent intentional chaos of the mind. We go to work, juggle life stress, bounce back and forth between our thoughts. Sometimes landing softly, others crashing into a wall of pent up emotion. Tears, just a few, because we aren't visibly crying - we always keep that inside.