Life is full of bright and vibrant colors, but sometimes we feel trapped in the black-and-white. We see only the straight lines instead of the curves, the narrow path before us instead of the tiny trail which could lead us to wide and expansive places.
Part of that is faith, it simply has to be, for without faith we can’t see the colors or the way to wonder. It doesn’t have to be some grand circumstance or bold move, most times it’s simply a thought which inspires us to take action, however small, which leads us to have faith in ourselves and in turn to answer our heart’s desire.
If you feel lost and don’t know which way to go, then listen and learn from those who have found their way and are willing to share their story.
Everyone has a story.
I am Mark Brodinsky and this is The Sunday Series.
The Sunday Series (137): Behind The Mask
When we reveal our humanity, we give others permission to be human. – Matthew Kelly
Forever it seemed the answer was “I don’t know.” For most of her life Megan Burak was unsure, unsettled and keeping to herself. Although she had – as she describes – a great childhood, she didn’t have direction.
When Megan was only four her mom moved the family from Pittsburgh to the small town of Berlin on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, to be closer to the beach and the ocean which her mom adored. Sometimes the inspiration of the sea can provide answers and enlightenment to some of life’s biggest questions, but for Megan, even as she approached adulthood the question still lingered, what to do and why.
“Even as a child I didn’t have any real answers when people asked me what I wanted to do”, says Megan. “I was really introverted when I was little. I was heavier when I was a child and of course I was bullied a bit which hurt my self-esteem. I always had trouble expressing myself.”
When the time for college approached Megan enrolled in Salisbury University, not far from her home, but still a great distance from her destiny. “I went to Salisbury, but with an undeclared major”, says Megan. “I had no idea of what I wanted to do and it troubled me. I took some drawing classes, mainly for the credits, but I got some good feedback from the professor. It turned out it was the only class I enjoyed doing and I started taking painting classes.
A couple of brush strokes helped bring the color of Megan’s world to life. Finally, she had answers. “Once I started taking art classes I really loved it”, Megan says, “it gave me a way to visualize my thoughts and ideas. I pursued it and declared an art major.”
Find your why and find your way. But the way is never easy, or without challenges, so your why must drive you and keep you moving forward, even as you’re falling back. For Megan her fall was literally to the floor. Shortly after beginning to pursue her passion, Megan fainted…in front of everyone. The introverted little girl just starting to express herself as a woman through her art was now facing a serious health challenge.
“When I was a sophomore I fainted right in the middle of painting class. I couldn’t finish half the semester, I was diagnosed with Neurally Mediated Hypotension.” It’s also known as the fainting reflex. The condition presented serious challenges for Megan. “Basically it’s a low-blood pressure disorder. When I stand upright the blood doesn’t evenly dispense, it pools to my legs and doesn’t go to my brain. I’ve fainted multiple times, about three times in public.”
The health condition became inspiration for one of Megan’s earliest works, the Faint and the Anxiety Blue paintings. Megan explains: “The Faint picture was that feeling of having this happen all the time and having this feeling of you being pulled way from yourself into nothingness. Anxiety Blue was at the same time period, the height of my anxiety, hiding parts of me, my face, my breasts, but the rest of the exposed body is the vulnerability, the worry and anxiety about fainting in public.”
The condition was brought under control with Megan monitoring her sodium intake, taking salt tablets and drinking plenty of water. And her ability to express herself through her art was back on track. Last year Megan graduated from Salisbury with a Bachelor’s Degree in Art and a concentration in two-dimensional art.”
Although in a number of her paintings Megan uses herself as the subject, she says she is not thinking about the “me”. “I use myself because I’m readily available”, says Megan. “But when I’m painting I don’t look as if I’m painting myself, I’m painting another character. I’m using myself, but it’s really my way to comment on the cycle I have observed with people in my generation.
For example, it’s not Megan’s story in a recent series of paintings which were recently part of her own showcase at the Ocean City Arts Center. It’s really the story of what happened to a friend, yet it still includes what was a major theme of Megan’s early works – remaining partially hidden to the world, behind the blindfold, under the mask.
There are actually five paintings in this series, Megan describes them in order:
“The first one is the man and woman on the motorcycle. What I was trying to do was capture the care-free and go-lucky girl, but still naive and blind, that’s why she has the blindfold on. The man is more rigid and he’s damaged internally from past relationships, which is why he’s wearing the mask.”
“In the second painting you can see the man is no longer around. The woman’s dress is tattered and she’s holding the blindfold in her hand. She been hurt and realized the man is not the person she thought he was.”
“The third painting in the series is called Cold, it’s the woman washing away her former self. She’s left cold and it’s because of what happened between her and the man.”
“In the fourth picture the woman is getting ready to surface again, but you can see the mask hanging expectantly on the mirror. The hollow darkness of the painting represents the world closing in.”
“Then in the final painting the cycle has come around. The woman is the damaged one now and she will probably go out and seek to do the same damage which was done to her.”
Megan says she is using her artwork to help comment on the cycle she has seen develop in her generation and the masks help shield at least part of her identity. “I’m scared of revealing all I’m about. In school I wasn’t 100-percent comfortable with everything I was doing. It seemed most of the people in my major knew what they wanted to do for a long time and I felt like I had fallen behind. I didn’t connect with many people in my own major and I guess I used the masks to consciously hide that part. When you use the mask you don’t see the whole person, so you don’t really know the whole person. Plus they are fun to paint and they still reveal the eyes, because the eyes are always extremely expressive.”
Moving forward with confidence and building her skills, Megan has slowly been shedding the mask and revealing her feelings and the expressiveness through all the artwork she creates. Her more recent works are other people and photos, experiences and images she finds interesting and strange. Megan says she’s drawn to the colors and the “weird” photos, people who might be odd, or unique, but that’s what Megan believes is beautiful. Plus she loves if people talk about her craft.
“I want people to think about my paintings later, not just leave the gallery and say, ‘oh that was nice’. My dream is to keep broadening where I’m showing, to get into juried shows where you can get awards. I’d love to show in a renowned art gallery in New York, which is really the art capital of America and I would love to go overseas and show in Italy, that would be amazing.”
Megan understands it’s not pure talent that will get her there, there’s nothing more common than unrewarded talent or genius, it’s practice and persistence. “The most important thing is to keep working and honing in on my skills”, says Megan. It’s really like a muscle. People say, ‘oh you must be so lucky to have this God-given talent’. But you have to have the passion. It’s really a muscle, you must exercise it every day to get better and better. I paint every day and only take three-to-four days off a month.”
It helps to have family as well who are supportive of what you are doing to express yourself to the world. Megan has her mom and dad and two brothers who love what she is doing, and she has the love of her life, her fiance’ Jon. The two have been together since they were 14, nearly a decade. Megan says Jon is her best friend and she’s excited about the prospect of getting married, having her own home and her own studio, and as Megan describes it, “have that whole life.”
Megan also says she has learned to overcome not only her internal challenges of anxiety and overcoming her tendency to be introverted, (she’s telling her whole story here!), but also the challenge any artist faces…competition. “I feel like as artists we are naturally hard on ourselves and our work”, says Megan, “especially when we see another artist in our concentration who is “better” than us. What I’ve learned to do is to be inspired by them instead of intimidated by them. It now inspires me to get better and to not give up on it. It’s essential to my work and how I keep going and I want other artists to know that too.”
“I love art and I’m passionate about trying to make it work. I love the challenge. I feel like it’s going really well. I’m doing some commission work which keeps the income coming in and I want to keep painting, entering shows, take advantage of the opportunities that come my way and keep building my skills. I want to ask questions, draw the eye and make an impression. I want to leave something that’s lasting.”
And perhaps by doing so over time Megan will reveal all the beauty of the artist and the woman behind the mask.
Until next time thanks for taking the time,
To see examples of Megan’s work or have her commission a painting for you, visit http://www.meganburak.com/and e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org
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