How could a writer possibly dream up a more perfect name for an artist whose vision realized has created such a clear and healing self-perception for herself and hundreds of other women?
Meet Clarity Haynes, an award-winning artist whose work I was introduced to by a mutual acquaintance, Dayna Mondello. I was so moved and intrigued that I just had to reach out and ask Clarity for an interview. She is an accomplished fine artist with a very special project called “The Breast Project.” It began with her own self-portrait more than a decade ago.
Clarity, where did the courage come from to first sketch your own self and be willing to use that process to create a new relationship to or understanding of your feelings about your body?
As an artist I am accustomed to self-portraiture; I’m the model who is always available. But choosing to do a self-portrait of just my body was very conscious.
I had internalized a lot of negative associations about the female body and being female from the culture at large. It felt somehow like a source of shame. I was in my mid twenties and, growing up in a city, since puberty I had experienced a lot of unwanted sexual attention from strangers — what we now call “street harassment.”
I wanted to do the portrait as a way of seeing if they were right – if my body was really was this sort of cartoonish joke.
Of course, what I found was something I hadn’t expected: I just looked like a human being. There was absolutely no connection between the vision of myself that disrespectful male attitudes had conjured up and my actual self. The painting was the best sort of mirror.
What was your experience of having other women begin to sit for you?
Initially, it felt very emotionally healing for me because the same affirmation I felt when I did my own portrait just kept multiplying. Here were other women living in bodies that were equally sacred, dignified, and worthy – despite what society or their experience might have told them.
In those early days, with the first few portraits of strangers, I encountered women who felt their body was sacred and divine. There were also a few who felt unworthy and bad about themselves and sat for the portrait (the experience) as a way of confronting those feelings, just as I had.
Ultimately, having a portrait done was, for them, about finding and expressing pride and self-respect for themselves as women. That initial feeling of shame I started with was something that most of us seemed to have had some experience with, and we were all at different places on a path to self-acceptance.
At what point in the process did you recognize this may also be a source of healing for others?
This relationship, this communion, that happened because of spending a few hours together, and this act of trust – the trust they give, not just from taking off their shirt and sitting for a portrait, but in most cases, doing it consciously in a spirit of healing and transformation – it is often quite an emotional bond I feel with them.
There is always that initial nugget of healing – for me and for the model – that is there.
Check back in tomorrow for Part 2 for additional nuggets of healing with Clarity and more of her beautiful, inspiring paintings as she talks about the unique experience of painting breast cancer survivors as part of their healing process.
Clarity Haynes holds a Master of Fine Arts in Painting and has lectured and taught at many prestigious institutions including The New York Academy of Art, Brooklyn College, Adelphi University and Rutgers University. Her work has been exhibited at the Tabla Rasa Gallery in Brooklyn, the Femina Potens Gallery in San Francisco, the Hopkins House Gallery of Contemporary Art, The Abrazo Interno Gallery, The Art Institute of Philadelphia, The Allentown Art Museum to name a few. For more information on her work go to clarityhaynes.com.