Thursday, July 21, 2016

Starting Up A Brand New Day

Brand New Day 20 x 24" oil on canvas
It has been close to a year since I've posted, a year filled with a lifetime of changes that thankfully, after a six month dry spell, has me back in the studio and excited to see where this transition leads.

It started last May, just after my birthday. I was excited to be back on the Cape for another intensive 3-day landscape workshop with Anne and Cynthia Packard in Provincetown and time to visit with my dad. I then ferried over to Nantucket for a week-long plein air painting workshop with Thomas R. Dunlay. The weather was exceptional, as was the company and I returned to my Elmira studio tanned, refreshed and began diligently to finish up and deliver new works for several upcoming shows.

In August I returned to the cape for my featured artist / solo show at Oils By The Sea / ROCCAPRIORE Gallery in Provincetown and stayed another week to relax, paint and visit with Dad. Then it was back to New York for the Finger Lakes Exhibition at the Memorial Art Gallery in Rochester, NY where I was asked to give an artist talk in early September. This was followed by another group show in Olean, NY.  So you see in a few short months I had traversed New England four times, the great state of upstate New York six times, received several awards, gave my first artist talk and learned I was accepted in Vermont Studio Center's residency program. My art life, you could say, was abuzz! 

That is until mid-September when I woke from a deep sleep to my cell phone buzzing in circles on my bedside table. I fumbled to grab it, saw it was 3AM and the call was from my dad's assisted living number. I bolted upright. It was my 94 year old dad saying he had a bad night of pain and hit the wall emergency button and the EMT's were transporting him to the Cape Cod hospital. I remember mumbling, "Okay, okay Dad. Thanks for letting me know. I'm sure you'll be okay. I will call the hospital in the morning. Okay, love you too." 

Hammock Shop 18 x 24" oil on canvas
 My head fell back to the pillow. My thoughts racing. He sounded pretty good, his mind was still working well...and yet he asked me to call my older brother who lived in Boston. I barely slept. There were tests and xrays and calls and waiting but quickly learned it was a small intestinal block causing all the pain and a simple surgery was needed that day. The surgeon said it went better than expected, my dad was doing extremely well for his age and soon he was up "walking the hallway." I was in the car driving to the hospital when they said he was doing so well he was being released that afternoon and to meet him at the rehab center.  Feeling relieved that he'd be okay and seeing he was in good hands and seemingly his normal self I checked into my hotel and collapsed. That night another call came. He could not eat or drink and was sent back to the hospital. I will spare the details but leave it to say I stayed another three weeks and my dad passed on October 10th. I was by his side.

It would be several more weeks before I was able to return home, stunned by all that happened. Taken aback at the grief I was feeling thinking that since my dad was 94 I'd be prepared for this loss!? Then I closed up my Elmira studio and headed down to Florida for the winter. We were slow to unpack and I was dreading the holidays when at Thanksgiving we learned of the tragic death of our niece. Too much to process. Filled with overwhelming sadness and disbelief I just wandered through the holidays in a daze. And I still did not paint. 

Sometime in December I called the Vermont Studio Center explaining my situation and asking if I could move my February residency to another month. I had not touched a brush since July and didn't want to waste the opportunity. A woman on the other end of the phone was very patient and saved me with another option, "You know... I'm happy to help you find another month but this is a wonderful place to just come and be with your thoughts. There's no pressure here. All your meals are taken care of. You're surrounded by other artists and you can meditate and be alone if you'd like and use it as a time to help you through this transition in your life. It may be just what you need." I hung up the phone in the same manner that my head had hit the pillow after my dad's call. Thoughts racing. Maybe this would be a good idea? I decided to go.

My experience in Vermont deserves it's own separate blog post but for now let me just say it changed my life. At first when I returned to Florida I simply spent time thawing out (average temps in VT were often below zero) yet I knew something had shifted. Everything I looked at was speaking to me. Blades of sea grass bending in the breezes grabbed my imagination as the pitch in the language the birds hurling across the brush made me stop and search for them while the shifting colors of the sky and sea were churning around me.  The connection between all living things was at once evident and I went into my studio and started painting. These were healing works. I first needed to work on new Cape 'scapes for my upcoming new season and show in Provincetown which was a good way to pull me back. I often cried and felt guilty if I was feeling joy. I often stumbled as painting after a six month dry spell feels similar to when you go back to the gym. It hurts. It's not easy. The muscles aren't like they once were and the results aren't there as quickly as in the it was often frustrating! I had to look at the notes I taped on my studio wall, notes I wrote to myself in Vermont that say, "It's okay to be happy" and "If you're not struggling you're not learning." And listened to Sting's "Brand New Day" in my headphones like I did in Vermont because my only goal while there was NOT to paint like I do at home, search for what's next. Explore. Play. Find the joy again.

Love Song 12 x 12" oil on linen
This is what painting does, for me anyways. It takes you along. Walking you through internal thoughts and memories, often times feeling both pain and joy. Making mistakes. Figuring out solutions. A connected conversation of sorts. So when I got a text from the gallery owner in Provincetown, a few weeks after delivering new work, saying that one of my new paintings had just sold? I stood still. It was my birthday. The painting was one created from memory of a place my family vacationed at as a child on Cape Cod that I titled, "Love Song." And I couldn't help but think it was my dad sending a message. And it shook me awake like a call in the wee hours. But this time it was happy news. Thanks, Dad.

/yours in the art life.