Becoming

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Becoming

“…remember that the light is within
if it is anywhere
and you must paint from the inside.”
Lawrence Ferlinghetti

“Our job in this lifetime is not to shape ourselves into some ideal we imagine we ought to be, but to find out who we already are and become it.”
Steven Pressfield, from The War of Art

I’d been painting less than a year when this woman, who looked a touch like me, showed up on my life-sized canvas with an open window and birds where her heart was. She looked at me unblinkingly, the light inside her almost too much to bear, and I knew with absolute certainty that, in painting, I was becoming who I already was. I also knew that I’d keep painting, that I’d never again let something within my control stop me from making art.

The image reminded me of the Coptic icons in the church of my youth, but instead of a religious painting, I’d created a secular icon.  The woman in the piece seemed okay with the nature of life, with love coming and going like the birds from her open, well-lit window of a soul. She was encased in a soothing blue that faded to black, the shape of a temple door, perhaps, or a coffin, indicating acceptance of impermanence and death. Yet the light was so strong, I sensed it would continue long after the mysterious darkness claimed her. I’d been afraid of death since the cancer scares in my teens and early twenties, and this painting seemed to say, “Don’t be afraid.”

I didn’t have to look for these meanings, they were just there, as clear and simple as her big unwavering eyes.

I hung the piece in my house, but it proved too intense for me. She overpowered any room I put her in. It just didn’t feel…appropriate.

I showed the piece and was relieved to sell it to a young woman in nursing school who said she needed to see the image every day.  A couple of months later, she sent a card with photos of her smiling next to the painting, which she’d hung centrally in her living room in an Atlanta apartment. I marveled that the two women shared a resemblance, and in their smiles had forged a private relationship, one I wouldn’t be privy to–an inspiring one, I hoped.

I was glad the painting had found a new life with someone else. I needed to pull my own gaze back and focus on the next canvas.

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