I rediscovered painting after a period of loss in my life. This came about after my partner moved out of our house and, heartbroken, I stood contemplating what to do with the now-empty enormous Apparatus Bay of the 1913 firehouse I own (yes, there’s a fire pole, along with a stable and a hayloft). Where there was once a man-filled man-cave with an airplane hanging in the ceiling, there was now an empty void. I imagined filling that void with light and color and joy. I painted the entire space white and bought a small starter pack of acrylic paints and began a process of re-learning how to paint. I hadn’t painted for 30 years, since my college days. Through watching YouTube videos and taking online classes I found myself reclaiming those college art days, immersing myself in new styles, techniques, and colors. The array of colors now available in acrylic paints compared with 30 years ago was magical to behold! Slowly, my second heartbreak began to heal over, little by little, with every dab of color I added to the canvas.
This process of healing was reminiscent of my first loss, when I found catharsis, not through color but through the written word. I discovered writing after the death of my husband in September 2001 when he attended an ill-timed conference at the World Trade Center. Shortly after the second anniversary of 9/11, I began to write my story, while simultaneously mosaic tiling a birdbath in his honor (a form of painting, you might say), and ultimately published my memoir, The Alchemy of Loss: A Young Widow’s Transformation in 2008. I wrote and published my novel, Remember the Moon, in 2014, centered around a dead husband and father who tells the story from the afterlife. Since then I have continued to write (though not publish) two other books and produce websites (I was Web director at Audible.com when my husband died), but painting did not come back into my life until after I broke my engagement with my long-term partner and had to reinvent my life once again, my grief rekindled. And so, this time, instead of words, I found color. Or perhaps color found me. But I find words and colors interchangeable. For me, painting and writing go hand-in-hand. I see words like colors and vice-versa. In writing, words form the shape of a book, the details of a character, the parameters of a thought. In paintings, those words are expressed as colors, interacting with each other like characters that carry on relationships that I don’t consciously dictate. Like writing, painting for me is a way of making sense of nonsense, finding pathways through darkness towards light – finding color in the grays, finding joy amidst sorrow. Under each of my paintings are layers of words, shapes, and colors that blend to become a cohesive whole, just as my words blend to become a book.
In writing, there is an adage that “something (or someone) must die for something new to be born.” Sometimes, you have to be brave and kill off a character, even if that character is a part of yourself. This “rising from the ashes” cliché seems to be the theme of my life. It has been true in my writing and is just as true in my painting as well. Every piece I paint has been an exercise in choosing those aspects of the painting (or life) that work and painting over those that don’t and in doing so, creating something new. With each layer, I must make conscious decisions of what to keep and what to transform. Eventually from the chaos and muddy colors and lack of balance, arises form and vibrant color and cohesion. A map of sorts. A pathway through the obstacles that life throws in our way. Could there be a better metaphor for life?
I often say I am living my “unexpected life,” and my art has become an extension of that idea. I rediscovered painting in my fifties, after a difficult transition in my life, much the same I found writing after another, even more difficult one. I am the author of “The Alchemy of Loss: A Young Widow’s Transformation” a memoir about my life as a young widow with children and a novel written along a similar theme. For me, art and writing go hand in hand and feed both sides of my brain in a very cathartic sense. I paint intuitively and experimentally, drawn to acrylics for their vibrant colors which bring me an inordinate amount of joy. For me, painting is how I bring color into my life. Just as my words have provided healing to many, I love bringing color into others’ lives as well.