Chicks with Balls…Growing a Pair

Katie blazed a trail at 8 3/4 months…by Judy Takács

Katie was the first to pose for me. Very pregnant, she chose basketballs to balance her basketball shaped belly…eagerly and without hesitation. For me, however the process of mustering up courage to start this project began several years earlier.

Let's rewind to the summer of 2008. Decades of overlapping childrearing and a thriving graphic design business left me severely behind in my first love…painting people. Through the dry years I had consistently taken figure and portrait painting classes to keep my skills up. I also painted portrait commissions to give me new people to paint, but I hadn’t yet found my voice.

Around that time I spoke with a local art center about having a show there. I secretly suspected I didn’t have a body of work I could show proudly, but I am not one to shirk from opportunity, so I let a representative come to see my work. At that time most of my paintings were figures…nudes. This local art center, which received city funding would not display nude paintings. Even if Botticelli's Birth of Venus were touring the U.S., it would be shunned locally. The director was frustrated by this provincial policy and  jokingly referred to the decision makers at city hall as “the sports guys”…implying that the small town cares more about their high school sports than the visual arts.

Anyway, I never did have a show there and nothing came of these meetings…except the seeds of an idea.
I kept mulling over what kind of art would possibly be approved by “the sports guys”. Landscapes and abstracts had been displayed there before, but I was only interested in  painting people…and truthfully, I am not interested in painting “for” the public, “for” the client, “for” the show…painting has always been a “from” process…“from” my heart and soul, talent and experience.

Still I played with the idea of what the “sports guys” would like. The first things that came to mind were paintings of balls…basketballs, footballs, baseballs.  What if these balls were covering offending body parts? Who could argue with that…not a nipple in sight. And thus was hatched the idea for Chicks with Balls.

I ruminated and kicked around the Chicks with Balls idea for several years without telling anyone. I also suffered from a lack of confidence. Who should I ask to pose? hired models? indulgent friends? reluctant relatives? Am I a good enough painter? And really, what was the point? Certainly it’s a lot of work to do on the off chance that a community art center with nudity policies will say, “Well sure we’ll show it…I don’t see any nipples!” So the idea lay dormant.

Every time I revisited it though, it grew and took on a life of its own. I started looking around  at my female friends wondering who might actually pose. I, like many of my suburban women friends don’t have strong ties to any literal balls…besides those attached to the sports our kids play.

But, as I continued my friend inventory, I discovered a whole lot of “figurative balls.” My friends have shown strength, courage, determination, resiliency, persistence and unwavering faith in their personal goals and those of their families, often against incredibly difficult odds. Tucked away here in Ohio, we are not running countries or negotiating world peace but we are the unsung heroines of our smaller, more ordinary lives.

The Laundry List

There is great depth and complexity in the challenges my ladies have faced.

Some are following disciplined paths to success and others reinventing well- planned lives turned upside down. Some are just starting, some are starting again.

Some are dealing with parental dementia at the same time as teenage depression and anxiety.

Some came from foreign lands and started fresh in the U.S. and some travel near and far to help those less fortunate to live better lives.

One jumps from airplanes, another runs triathlons, another plays rugby, a few play tennis and many cheer for their children whatever sport they are playing.

They speak their minds when they should and sometimes when they shouldn’t but will always keep a secret to protect someone they love…
as I am keeping many of their secrets even while celebrating how well they deal with them.

Some have survived cancer. Some have found inner strength when illness has taken it. Some have survived dangerous pregnancies and given birth to babies that have, and babies that have not survived.

Some are guided by great faith.

Some are guided by great faith in self.

A few have survived heartbreak and betrayal and held their heads high.

They fight for their children, on behalf of their children and with their children.

Some fight for the rights of the children of others.

They dance, they sing, they paint, they create, they document, they heal, they learn, they fall down, they get back up, they help, they love.

And quietly and efficiently from the shadows they make sure the people in their small corner of the world are loved and cared for.

And so I found a voice, and a purpose, and a vision for this project…and I found so many potential models right in my own back yard. Now I just needed to grow a pair myself and make the Chicks with Balls project happen in life as well as in paint.

This blog chronicles the process. To continue from the beginning, go to “Inspiration from Iowa” and then on to “Litmus Test”…or just get the book ( if you really want to curl up in a comfy chair and be as inspired by the women I painted as I was!

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