Entries Tagged as 'death'

Loss and Life

Monday, August 18, 2014

Loss and Life

Yesterday I took a long, solitary hike to a waterfall, where I saw, among other brilliant trees, this towering specimen. The rugged beauty of this bare old-growth pine silhouetted in grayish light moved me to a silent stupor.

This time last year, I painted a similar tree from memory after hiking in the Appalachian mountains and returning home to heartbreak. The painting was about the prickly quality of loss, that utterly naked yet defensive state where we want to draw inward and lash out, where we want run away and give up, yet by some sardonic miracle, we’re still standing, stripped to bone, left to begin again.

As a person and a therapist, I find the starkness of nature reassuring. Even dead trees contain myriad life; the barest branches hold the birds.

The Survivors

Sunday, August 10, 2014

The Survivors

The Survivors, 36″ x 60″

“We must admit there will be music despite everything.”
(from A Brief for the Defense, by Jack Gilbert)

I was considering painting sunflowers when I checked the news late one Saturday night. A passenger jet was shot down over the sunflower fields of the Ukraine. Hundreds of civilians; no survivors.

I could not get the images from my mind, and that night I dreamt of smoke, bodies, families, friends, relief workers, soldiers, and politicians who were now inextricably part of the same tragic story.

And the flowers, waving over it all with an insolent, indecent joy. By morning, I did not want to paint sunflowers anymore.

As I followed the headlines throughout the week, the violence escalated in the Middle East. More innocents dead. And bleary-eyed young people were coming into my office talking about these events, people with family and friends overseas, people who woke each day to the body count and then managed to show up for a physics final.

I work with survivors, with people who have endured unspeakable traumas. They somehow speak anyway, and then, remarkably, go on living. In therapy, they show me their own ravaged fields, where I walk in awe. Amidst so much pain, loss, and injustice, they have survived. Often, there are flowers.

When my energy returned, I painted this for the survivors who touch me with their courage not only to live but, against all odds, to blossom.

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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