On Sunday, July 31, Grif Sadow finished a project that began exactly one year earlier. That evening, he painted a 3-inch-by-3-inch piece entitled “Hopeful,” the final entry in a series that started with a piece called “Lucky.”
In between the bookends, Sadow created one small canvas per day, every day, each based on a different emotion. One day at a time, he produced 365 small paintings based on feelings like “distorted,” “empathetic,” “jostled,” “supercilious,” “relaxed,” “pugnacious” and many more.
At the simplest level, the idea for a year-long painting project came from Sadow working through Julia Cameron’s “The Artist’s Way” program, but it would be far more accurate to say that it’s a culmination of Sadow’s journey through life.
After many years working in theater, art and education, Sadow decided that it was time for a change, but wasn’t sure what that change might be. He started working with a life coach for guidance and discovered that a new door had been opened.
“It became more and more apparent that this was my next step,” says Sadow. “I think I’m on the planet to help people learn more about themselves.”
Sadow became a life coach himself six years ago, and it became necessary for the arts to take a backseat while he focused on his business. Then, over a year ago, it became time for the two worlds to merge. Sadow downloaded a list of 3,000 different emotions and printed it out. The physical list reached 80 pages, and each morning Sadow shuffled the pages, picked one, and selected an emotion for the basis of his daily painting.
Sadow typically painted at night, usually from 9 p.m. to midnight. Some emotions were easier than others, but Sadow never missed a day, never picked a replacement emotion after one had been chosen and never abandoned a painting — although some were revised again and again before he got it right.
“Sometimes I wanted to throw paint on a canvas and be done,” he says. “But there was something about letting myself down. I had to keep working.”
Along with the visual appeal of the 365 miniature canvases, Sadow hopes viewers will take many things away from the project.
“Creative expression is innate in all of us,” he says. “You don’t have to be an artist to express yourself artistically.”
He feels that not enough people make time to discover an outlet that works for them, and they would be well served to do so. “I used to believe that I never had enough time,” says Sadow. “But it just became part of my day. Other things had to give, but I still had to paint.”
As someone who works with others in need of guidance, Sadow is all too aware of the somewhat limited emotional vocabulary too many of us have access to. “What I hear is always ‘good,’” says Sadow. “How are you doing? I’m good. Everyone always says ‘good.’ There are a lot more feelings than just good.”
By creating paintings based on emotions that were often similar to one another, Sadow hoped to better understand the nuances of feelings like sadness as opposed to depression or feeling crestfallen. “The more you explore who you are, the more range you have in expressing yourself in the world,” he says. “Of course, I still say ‘I’m good.’”
Sadow is excited to share his work with the public and hopeful that his project viewers seek their own creative outlets. “If we got out of our technology and connected more emotionally with one another, it would create more understanding in the world,” he says.
Now that his first year-long project is complete, Sadow has now started a new year-long painting project based on a similar concept. He’ll still create 3-inch-by -3-inch paintings based on emotions remaining on the original list of 3,000, but now he’ll pick an emotion in the morning and incorporate some item or concept he finds during the day into his evening painting session. “I really got into the momentum of the daily practice in some way,” he says. “It really became my personal time.”
The second year-long painting project began on Aug. 1, one day after the original project ended. Sadow is not one to rest on his laurels. After completing the year-ending piece on July 31, he says, “I reflected a little bit, and then I went to bed.”
Check out Grif Sadow’s paintings
On Aug. 18, the complete collection of Sadow’s paintings will be on display at the Mill District City Apartments, 225 Portland Ave from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. While the show is technically described as a “limited public viewing,” anyone who is interested is invited to stop by and check them out. About a third will also be on display through Sept. 14 at the Edina Art Center, 4701 W. 64th St.