Numb The Pain With The Money: The Story Behind The Painting That Changed My Career And My Life / by Antoinette Cauley

Each painting I do is an extension of myself and my current state of emotion. Each painting in my new body of work (where I am reimagining little girls as famous rappers) has a very specific piece of my struggle hidden within it; things you would only know if I told you.

It was December of 2017 when everything came to a head. Inspiration for this new collection hit me unexpectedly and to be honest, it hit me quite painfully. Let me rewind for a second. Last year, through the help of my counselor, I had learned and put into practice a new life lesson- how to be vulnerable and open with a man about how I feel about him. I did it once last summer with a man I had spent years in limbo with. Being that vulnerable with someone who was not vulnerable in return caused a lot of really agonizing heartbreak.

I thought this man was the one and I watched my world with him shatter around me as I continued to let my walls down. I had to accept that we weren't going to work despite the fact that I had done everything I could have to keep us together. In the midst of it all I became self destructive and not myself. It was a really tough time and I wasn't sure how I was going to make it out. When the dust settled and I realized I survived, I took a few months to allow my heart a little breathing room.

Eventually I felt okay again and I found the courage to be vulnerable once more with someone new. This time I was open about my feelings for a friend of mine. Long story short, this particular situation didn't turn out the way I wanted it to. It was the second time that year I had put my heart out there with men I care about and felt the sting of what felt like rejection so intensely. It was too much for me and I had reached a breaking point. I was so hurt that the only way I knew how to cope was to escape reality for a bit, lock myself away and just... paint.

Antoinette working on "Numb The Pain With The Money"

Antoinette working on "Numb The Pain With The Money"


I hadn't painted in about 3-4 months up to that point which wasn't normal for me. But all of  the hurt from the year finally hit me that December and it was so overwhelming that I locked myself away from the world and finished five paintings in seven days. FIVE IN SEVEN! I was a little shook at how fast I worked, I can't lie lol! It was then that I decided to take a month long break from people, events and social media as a whole and really spend some time with myself conquering this confusion and sudden depression I had seemingly slipped into. I focused on channeling that hurt into my work. During that month I had found my creative groove again. The pain, while intense, pushed me to paint and forced me to refocus on myself and my personal needs.

At the time of all of this, I just so happened to be listening to a lot of 21 Savage (at the urge of a group of teens I was teaching art to) and I found myself actually connecting to some of his music. The first time I heard his song “Numb” I just got it. It related to how I was feeling so much. The chorus is this repetitive “Numb the pain with the money, numb the pain with the money, numb the pain with the money..." in his mellow and monotone voice. The thing is, every-time I feel hurt or heartbroken I naturally go into "make money" mode as a way to cope with that hurt. The money gives me this temporary high and distracts me from the real internal issues I am facing. The high, while it makes me feel good and creates a space where I am super productive, never lasts. I am always left back where I started, wounded and sometimes just not happy. I am always forced to face the real issue even if it is delayed.

In this painting, which is the first in my new series, seven year old Faith is posing as 21 Savage from his "ISSA" album cover. She is holding a cup of lean- symbolic of drowning your sorrows in drug use. The cup is animated as to take away from the seriousness of drug abuse and to make it a little more playful as (unfortunately) is often done in rap music. Her face is a little sad and filled with a bit of depression as to reflect the internal pain I was feeling at the time. The pile of money at the bottom of the painting, well that's how you really numb the pain! This painting came together so beautifully and captured what I was feeling at the time so perfectly. 

This series had been one I planned on creating for about a year. It took that hurt to push me into the space I needed to be in to really create. This was the first time I felt that I was actually using my true voice and all of the skills I have accumulated over the years in my work. I have a lot to say in my artwork and this piece was the doorway to finally letting that voice come through.

I knew that this painting was special and that it was going to change things for me. I didn't know how or when but I knew that my pain would not be in vain. Roughly three months after I completed "Numb The Pain With The Money" and announced my new collection, I caught the eye of the monOrchid Gallery in downtown Phoenix. The monOrchid is the "it" gallery in Phoenix and is a space that artists across the city dream of showing in. This specific piece caught their eye and within days of them stumbling upon my work, they were asking me to represent me. THIS. WAS. MAJOR. I had dreamt for YEARS of showing work at the monOrchid. Never did I imagine I would one day they would want to represent me.

The opening nght of "The Coterie Exhibition" at the monOrchid. This exhibition features selected works from all seven of the monOrchids represented artists and is open to the public through Sptember 7th 2018.

The opening nght of "The Coterie Exhibition" at the monOrchid. This exhibition features selected works from all seven of the monOrchids represented artists and is open to the public through Sptember 7th 2018.

This painting was an absolute game changer, but when the reality set in on just how much of an impact it made on my life as a whole, suddenly it made the hurt and heartbreak all worth it. It made those tearful nights and wondering "why?" all worth it. Yes, my heart took a real beating last year, but the beauty that rose from that pile of shattered pieces of my heart manifested into something absolutely amazing.

Maybe we don't give our pain enough credit, you know? It pushes us creatively and inspires masterpieces a lot of the time. It lights a flame that otherwise might have stayed dormant. That flame can illuminate a beautiful path that leads to understanding and liberation if we are brave enough to take a step forward. Maybe if we took the time to sit down and listen to our pain and asked it what it was trying to tell us,  we would learn some real life lessons. Maybe we would find true happiness and see that everything in life has its own unique and important purpose; that nothing is ever in vain if we simply decide so.