Wicked: a triptych

About the work

I first saw the musical Wicked right after a really painful breakup with a guy I’ll call M. It was a short but intense long-distance relationship, and it left me wrecked for a long time. He dumped me (by text message!!) three weeks before I was supposed to fly to see him, and the day of the skipped flight I went to New York to see Broadway shows instead.

Those memories are soaked into the musical for me, inextricable from the first few months after the breakup. I painted this triptych to explore those memories and the emotions around them, and focused on the three songs I find most powerful from the musical: “Not That Girl,” “Defying Gravity,” and “For Good.”

The full work touches on themes of autism, bullying, sexuality, bipolar disorder, OCD, acceptance, and growth. It explores how the past shapes us, and how reexamining it can bring about change in our present.


Top: Wicked I, 12×24 acrylic and foil leaf on canvas. Painted to “Not That Girl” by Idina Menzel

Middle: Wicked II, 12×24 acrylic, ink, and foil leaf on canvas. Painted to “Defying Gravity” by Kristen Chenoweth and Idina Menzel

Bottom: Wicked III, 12×24 acrylic, ink, and foil leaf on canvas. Painted to “For Good” by Kristen Chenoweth and Idina Menzel

About each piece

Wicked I

I began by reaching back into my childhood, to the memories of how autism made me different, and how I both craved solitude and yearned for connection. My first middle-school crush was on an adorable, popular boy a year older. When a classmate stole my journal, she leaked the info far and wide, and I was viciously mocked.

After that I became cripplingly afraid of rejection by a crush, yet still desperate for love and intimacy. Over time a pattern developed: interest led to anxiety; anxiety led to obsession; and ultimately obsession led to depression, self-harm, and loss of identity. These would usually last a few months, until eventually my natural bipolar cycles moved me back into hypomania.

When, as an adult, I developed a secret crush on M, the thrill of reciprocation propelled me into the longest and highest hypomanic phase of my life. Before then I had always felt like I was “Not That Girl;” but M chose me, and I became That Girl.

The crash following the breakup was equally intense, and this song always brings back the gut twist of knowing I was back to Not That Girl.

I worked this piece in several layers, first a set of dark greens and blues brushed over the canvas, then brighter colors scraped over and blended chaotically into the under layer. I used wet sponges to create blurry areas, and filled them with bright foil later.

This piece captures my mental health trauma; the skyrocket into hypomania that M touched off; the frenetic energy of our relationship; the anxiety that constantly underpinned the hypomania; and the parallels between my relationship with M and my bipolar disorder with its ever-present threat of the next crash.

Wicked II

When I saw the show, this song brought me out of my seat gasping for breath. I felt like Elphaba’s strength and beauty could raise me out of my own despair, and I remember tears streaming down my face and my chest quaking as I whispered “Can you feel her?”

That memory turns a little embarrassing as I recall that I was the only person standing in an entire Broadway theater. Yet I find validation in it as well: autism means I am sometimes socially awkward; it means sometimes my emotions are too big for my body.

When I’m upset that means a meltdown, but joy can turn to rapture by the same token. Accepting my autism means not being embarrassed by who I am, even when it means a social gaffe here and there.

This is the first piece in which I’ve used inks in addition to my usual acrylics and foil. I dripped green, teal, and blue inks from one side of the canvas, then magenta and red from the other, creating a distressed and aged look. I also employed multiple layers of foil and paint, playing with creating variation in the brightness of my metals.

In this piece I see my duality of self, my cyclical nature. Each side is separate, yet feeds back to the other. I also see my connections back to how my relationship with M, while not visually represented in the piece, set the stage for better things to come in my future.

Wicked III

This piece continues and capstones the triptych’s themes:

  1. The connection between my relationship with M and my bipolar disorder
  2. The way my mental health has shaped relationships throughout my life

To this day M casts a long shadow, and he is never entirely gone from my thoughts. Yet I believe the song’s lyrics are true for me:

“I do believe I have been changed for the better
And, because I knew you, I have been changed for good”

For this final piece I employed a technique I use in watercolors, in which I slosh some water around and add ink with a dropper. Then I allowed it to spread and settle as it dried.

Once that was dry, I used a wet sponge to glaze it with purples and reds, and finally finished it with both gold and silver foils, which is both my first use of the silver in this triptych, and my first use of the silver at all.

I really love the way my colors and foils both work to blend the warms and cools of this piece together, and how the overall effect is a lot like a nebula. I’ve always seen Glinda and Elphaba’s relationship in Wicked as existing across a space like this, and I think I saw my relationship with M that way as well.

But here, I see my present life mostly blended over the few rose-tinted memories I still have of M, rather than a bridge that still connects us. And I’m happy with that.