Each body of my work has it’s own energetic and aesthetic quality and this group of work feels distinctly of the earth (grounded, visceral, pulsing with life) and yet it also feels very much tethered to the cosmos (celestial, ephemeral, sublime). I’ve been doing a meditation a lot lately in which I visualize my roots going deep down into the earth and then my crown going way out into the Universe, well past the farthest star. I’ve found the idea that I can be both grounded to the earth and simultaneously connected to greater consciousness very comforting. I’ve read countless books on death and dying in recent months and beyond the need to better understand that experience, it’s also become clear to me that I’m trying to find some sense of footing on the other side of life and what might exists there. I was scheduled to get a tattoo last month and due to a seemingly random hit of inspiration, ended up changing my mind at the last minute and getting the wings of Isis instead. The wings of Isis symbolize ascension, protection of the dead and the ability to transition seamlessly between life and the afterlife.
My girlfriend that passed away last Summer has been showing up in my dreams lately, telling me about what it’s like beyond the physical plane. Sometimes what she imparts comes through as feeling tones or subtle evocative sensations and sometimes she’ll say something like, “All the colors are different except for yellow. Yellow is the same.” In the dreams, she seems to know that I am trying to create a deeper connection to what can’t be seen or named or even fathomed to those of us that still occupy bodies. Like the steadfast friend she has always been to me, she drops me these little clues helping me to draw connections between this world and the one just beyond my purview.
The most important and meaningful thread I’ve encountered in all the reading I’ve done is the thread that links the physical to the non. So many writers have touched on what happens after someone dies including the subtle cues that emerge indicating that the individual may no longer exist in physical form but is still here, albeit in a very nascent and transient way. Meghan O’Rourke who wrote the memoir, “The Long Good-bye” about her mother who passed away from cancer says this at the end of the book: “Before we scattered the ashes, I had an eerie experience. I went for a short run. I hate running in the cold, but after so much time indoors in the dead of winter I was filled with exuberance. I ran lightly through the stripped, bare woods, past my favorite house, poised on a high hill, and turned back, flying up the road, turning left. In the last stretch I picked up the pace, the air crisp, and I felt myself float up off the ground. The world became greenish. The brightness of the snow and the trees intensified. I was almost giddy. Behind the bright flat horizon of the treescape, I understood, were worlds beyond our everyday perceptions. My mother was out there, inaccessible to me, but indelible. The blood moved along my veins and the
snow and trees shimmered in greenish light. Suffused with joy, I stopped stock- still in the road, feeling like a player in a drama I didn’t understand and didn’t need to. Then I sprinted up the driveway and opened the door and as the heat rushed out the clarity dropped away. I’d had an intuition like this once before, as a child in Vermont. I was walking from the house to open the gate to the driveway. It was fall. As I put my hand on the gate, the world went ablaze, as bright as the autumn leaves, and I lifted out of myself and understood that I was part of a magnificent book. What I knew as “life” was a thin version of something larger, the pages of which had all been written. What I would do, how I would live — it was already known. I stood there with a kind of peace humming in my blood.”
While Meaghan’s language resonates with me the most, I have come across many accounts of something similar for those either facing death or companioning someone through the process. By getting close enough to death’s door, it seems we inexplicably gain occasional access to a portal that allows us to briefly see the greater blueprint or pattern that underlies all of physical manifestation and that while we may have thought that the physical world of what can be seen and measured was all there is, we can see now that it is merely one sliver of existence.
It has been encouraging to come into contact with this theme again and again throughout my reading and then deeply reassuring to have the theme become experiential by actually gaining access to that portal. My painting practice and what shows up on the canvas is always inextricably intertwined with whatever is happening is my life, what I’ve been investigating consciously and what I might be chewing on unconsciously. These paintings are the artifacts of the quest I have been on to make radical peace with death through gleaning newfound awareness or wisdom around what’s beneath it, below it, behind it, beyond it. And not just because my friend, Susannah has walked through that door or because my beloved brother, Colin will walk through it soon but because I have understood to some degree that there is a profound and unshakable sense of solace that comes when we understand that there is no real end. From the very onset of my painting practice, long before I was contemplating themes of the afterlife or mortality, my paintings have always insisted on something more. They speak of what’s beyond the grasp of the here and now. They beckon me beyond limited notions of what is and into the elusive waters of that which cannot be named. Through color and line and form they reveal to me an unencumbered sense of wonder that exists well beyond all the fixed ideas, and formulated hypothesis I so often defer to in order to make sense of this deeply mysterious experience of being alive. They hint at a pervasive and luminous light that underlies this duality laden realm of existence. Their ultimate message is that everything, literally everything, is comprised of love. Suffering in all forms is merely a by product of being disconnected from this truth.