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Umbrellas - Demystified

Updated: Mar 16, 2021

Isolate Reflections, 2019

By Bobby Padilla

Acrylic on canvas, 12” x 18” (framed)

I believe everyone at some point has had a reoccurring dream, could be days or months apart. Foggy frames and sequences of somewhat shapeless faces, but hauntingly familiar. Repeating symbols and events, like a movie you’re seeing for a second or even third time. Perhaps, each time that dream lasts just a few moments longer. While these dreams aren’t necessarily life altering, we do seek meaning from them. Could be stress or fear of change, guilt or a another unresolved life issue. At the risk of sounding like a first year art student whose “dream journal” is their primary source of inspiration, yet all they can come up with is a poorly designed abstract landscape with a baron tree in it (I know I've done many of them), I’ll pause here a moment.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with trying to decipher the symbols in your subconscious and deriving meaning from them. The challenge then is to process memory and shape understanding from a subliminal haze. Ever notice how much you forget about a dream throughout a day, despite how vivid that dream was the night before? Then your waking self somehow fills in the blanks of what you don’t remember.

Empty Beach I, 2020

By Bobby Padilla

Acrylic on canvas, 3.5" X 5"

Empty Beach II, 2020

By Bobby Padilla

Acrylic on canvas, 8" X 10"

Well, being an artist that operates in the realm of surrealism is a little like that. There are symbols and forms that I use over and over throughout the years in many different paintings. If a picture’s worth a thousand words, then using symbols and recognizable objects within a picture expand that dialogue exponentially. This doesn’t absolve the responsibility of the artist of conveying a clear message to the viewer. Yes, we know that a painting can and will be interpreted differently by an individual, but a mood or concept should be clear, (other than confusion) that a piece can be about anger, depression, joy, or hope, etc. Often, the code of symbolism has a completely different message and connotation to the viewer. As the author of that image, I’m ok with that. Sometimes you’re in the unique position to have an artist explain their piece and crack that code. But often you’re not, so you bring your own baggage and applied meaning to the piece. Like reading a horoscope, it means what you want it to mean. You fill in the blanks of vagary and suddenly the stars align (pun very much intended) and it makes sense. At least the sense you want it to have.

Downtown Portland Maine, 2019

By Bobby Padilla

Acrylic on canvas, 8" x10" (framed)

One such symbol for me has been the repeated use of the umbrella. It’s a simple form, and yet, it lends itself to many deeper meanings and double entendres. It’s a thin protection from the elements. It keeps what’s outside from what’s inside. It can be anchored at a fixed point or held up by an individual, or it can be shared. It can be mysterious or it can be festive. It can be a blunt icon for depression or represent the ease and serenity of a peaceful summer day. And above all, it only works when it’s open…like our minds.

As a symbolic device in my painting, the umbrella means just that. All we know, our thoughts and beliefs kept protected by a temporal and very thin skin or protection. To keep what’s inside from outside influence. Somehow it made sense to me early on when I began to visually speak in symbols. It could depict isolation and the struggle of introspection, or it could depict moments of joyful congregation over a meal.

Flash forward to 2020 and the current state of affairs. With COVID-19 and Black Lives Matter and the need for social change, the umbrella has taken on another unexpected meaning…a shield. Like minded protesters coming together at the front lines of demonstrations and protest marches using umbrellas to the heavy-handed authoritarian brutality of our police. The umbrellas are used to thwart tear gas and pepper balls. Umbrellas also are symbols of the aforementioned isolation, but now because the need for social distancing amid a pandemic.

I hope to explain other symbols that have reoccurred in my art throughout the years in future posts. Keep in mind, it took many years to understand why I use the symbols I use. There are some I’m still trying to figure out. Until then, remember, like an umbrella, your mind only works when it’s open.

Umbrella Man, ( Trondheim, Norway) 2009

By Banksy

Nola Umbrella Girl (Rain Girl), 2008

By Banksy

New Orleans, Marigny Neighborhood

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Sep 25, 2020

I love the series of Umbrella paintings. They were just hung in our freshly painted dining room. ❤

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