I started this body of work in the depths of this past winter. Donald Trump had been officially sworn into office, my baby brother had just been diagnosed with terminal cancer and I was in the final phases of watching one of my oldest and closest friends lose her battle to ovarian cancer. The daylight was scarce, the landscape was barren, and the naked terrain of my heart was fully exposed. I was "in it" to put it mildly.
The intensity of this time was different than previous forays into dark waters. This was not the self-induced variety. This was exclusively condition specific. Our country had elected a mad man into office and the implications of this outcome were becoming clearer every day. My beloved brother's prognosis was becoming increasingly grim. Susannah's body was no longer responding to treatment and she was dying. These were not things I had brought upon myself. They were all independent of my volition and they were all objectively very shitty.
So in addition to a spike in cigarette smoking and wine consumption, I went into the basement and painted. My painting practice has always been a respite and that was no different now. I would sit in front of that canvas and curse my face off. I'd wail. I'd beg the Gods for a different outcome. I'd eventually surrender and let the brushes do their thing. I'd stand back and gape at what initially seemed like products incongruent with their process.
The beginning phases of the pieces were visceral, gritty, and dark and I assumed that's where they would stay but that's not where they'd end up. Light kept emerging. And not just light but pulsing, luminous, embracing light. It began to dawn on me that by painting from my most tender-hearted place, the work in turn became a reflection of my turning in towards the place where I/we most avoid going. While we all know that the deep despair of loss will find us eventually, until it beckons, we can't really fathom it's presence.
What I began to discover is that loss is indeed frightening. It's stark and bleak and harsh and unforgiving. But it's a lot of other things too which are much harder to explain. When you sit daily with the reality that you're going to lose someone deeply precious to you; someone who is integral to concepts of your identity and sense of safety in the world, the shock of it gradually begins to make way for something else. Slowly, you begin to calibrate the idea that not only is this happening to me but it happens to everyone. Tragedies occur everyday. In fact, death, sickness and terrible twists of fate are inextricably woven into the fabric of our human experience. While we have become better at mitigating these grisly aspects of the human experience in the west, no one is exempt. We are all subject to the seemingly random hand of time, God, or whatever your want to call the unseen forces that we simply cannot control, try we might.
It starts to really sink in that we are fundamentally incapable of shielding ourselves from the searing pain of loss: from the loss of those we love to the ultimate loss of our own physical selves. And the truth of this begins to shake things loose inside. The fear of loss that's locked and loaded like a vice grip in the pit of our stomachs starts to soften. That deep seated fear of loss and death that underlies all our idiosyncratic phobias and paranoias starts to become transparent and the unquellable angst begins to quell.
Death is part of what we do here. We are born, we live and love as best we can and then we die. What death and the dying have to teach us, is about what it truly means to live and when you start to piece apart what that means, it really only comes down to one thing: how well you loved and allowed yourself to be loved. We do lots of other stuff here, some useful, and some highly counterproductive and countersurvival but the only thing we do here that really truly matters in the end, is how we loved.
That level of simplification and some might argue, oversimplification (which of course is arbitrary) really cleared out a lot of space. It gave me the ability to stop resisting the inevitable and instead embrace all the life that still remained unlived. The time with my brother, Colin is precious. The time I have to experience the power and grace of being here with so much access to resources, so much opportunity to extend myself in joy and love is an infinite gift.
My paintings were hellbent on getting me from A to B. While allowing me to be with and entertain my grief, they weren't going to let me waste away in the sludgy waters of self-pity. They were tenacious in their commitment to reveal that light and love is the ultimate and prevailing force. While death and loss make their mark on us, what remains is the ephemeral and eternal glow and spark of love. We lost Susannah in June but the supremely loving and joyful being that she was persists. She is actually not really gone at all. She is just with us in a different way now. And such is the process, of being born, living and dying. Regardless, of where we are in that cycle, we are all here in some form. Sand, soil, star dust. They're not that different after all.