The most powerful weapon on earth is the human soul on fire.  ~ Ferdinand Foch



My work is an inevitable representation of my defiance.  Each piece embodies my pursuit for freedom, a mandate to shatter social constructs, and an inclination to push boundaries.  There’s a depth I search for—perhaps in myself, but—mostly in the work as it develops.  Rarely is a painting spawned from a preconceived image; most often, a piece evolves as dialogue between line and color unfolds.  The act of creating a painting is often exhausting, sometimes requiring weeks to wrestle the monster to the ground.  I emerge sweaty and breathless, anxious to see if the painting has won.  In the end, I hope for my art to serve as scaffolding for the imagination, a skeletal construct from which the soul is free to soar.



Looking back, art has served as a lifeline all along.  Were it not for art class in high school, for instance, I would not have cared to go to school at all.  I graduated, barely, and reserved any further academic ambition for Cornish College of the Arts.  But between naysayers and the cost of tuition, I didn’t attend.  Drugs and alcohol provided an escape similar to creating art, so I did that instead.  In time, fortunately, stiff consequences encouraged me to consider sobriety; a fresh obsession with flying required it.

Before my first flight lesson I knew I wanted to fly firebombers.  The danger of flying low over burning terrain attracted me to the profession, that and the fact that there are very few female pilots in aerial firefighting.  I thought I’d fly fire bombers until I retired, or died, whichever came first.  For anyone interested, getting into the pilot seat of an airtanker is not a linear progression.  I was determined and lucky enough to make it to a copilot seat of a Neptune P2-V heavy airtanker.

I later became the first woman authorized by the U.S. government to captain a Single Engine Air Tanker.  It’s an exhilarating vocation when you’re able to help save acres, homes, wildlife, and sometimes people from wildfire.  But the totality of the job didn’t make my heart beat fiercely for as long as I expected.

In search of fulfillment, I turned to academia.  Yet six years of higher education—to include earning a bachelor’s degree, and an MFA in Creative Writing from Lesley University—failed to quiet the longing inside.  I don’t mention this to brag—though never in my life did I think I’d have a master’s degree.  Instead, I share this in effort to explain, in part, what ends up on the canvas.  Our histories, in large and small ways, become part of the finished product.

There’s a famous story about Picasso doodling on a napkin in a cafe in Paris.  He had crumpled the napkin to put it in his pocket and a woman asked to have it.  When she asked how much he said $20,000.  She was insulted of course because it took him only a few minutes to draw.  But Picasso pointed out that the doodle had taken—depending on the retelling of the story, twenty years, sometimes forty years, or—a lifetime to produce.

I adore flying and making up stories, but the act of painting is the only thing that makes the desperation go away.  Painting sets my heart on fire.  Do that, someone once said; do what sets your heart on fire.


© 2017 by Fawn McManigal