Monday, January 30, 2012
This is Jan Selman, an artist and women’s political coach who I met this weekend at a dinner party. She lost her 85 year old mother to cancer last year. Jan spoke at length about having hospice in her home, and how positive that experience was for her family and for her mom. Hospice care provided palliative medical treatment, and a compassionate bridge into death. The scenario, she noted, was better than dying in a hospital.
I squirmed as Jan’s story unfolded, realizing at some point that my mom’s hospice in 1997 in her Decatur Georgia nursing home, Harvest Heights, was far from homey. The setting felt like a hospital with nurses, aides, people in wheelchairs, and sanitized hallways flooded in neon. It was not bad, just not as personal.
I took this picture of Mom two months before she passed away. She had fallen, broken a hip and injured her eye. She was incontinent, and had dementia, but often still recognized me and was always cheerful. In the fall of that year she stopped eating and drinking. I initiated hospice care in her room at the nursing home after she was sent twice to The Atlanta Medical Center (formerly Georgia Baptist Hospital) to give her intravenous fluids, and stabilize her body chemistry. I made this tough decision after a meeting with her doctor and nurses, and in accordance with her living will wish for no extraordinary medical interventions.
Nothing much changed as far as the look of Mom’s nursing home room. It was now called hospice. We offered her food and drink, but did not force it. Mom was in a semi-private room with a curtain separating her from a woman with advanced Alzheimer’s. This woman lay in a fetal position by the window moaning or calling out. Her family, who I only saw once, kept a TV next to her that was turned on all day and probably all night–for comfort, I assume. During my mother’s last days on earth we sat with her while football games, commercials and talk shows played just beyond the curtain. It was disconcerting, but Mom did not seem to mind, and eventually slipped into a coma and died on December 6, 1997. For me the atmosphere in that room still feels surreal.
These are two portraits I drew of Mom based on the photograph. I covered her face in one of them, but I left her large eyes open so she could see through.
I took a final picture of Mom's hands while in hospice, and after her death I did a plan drawing for something I called “Helping Hand Wings for Hazel...Who Was Afraid of Death”. I imagined a zip-on winged contraption to enable her to pass fearlessly through the transition.
Two weeks ago I discovered two pictures of Mom as a teenager probably from 1923, and as a young adult around 1929 that touched me with their sweetness. They were pasted inside an old photo album she had stored in a footlocker in my basement. I include them here.
Sunday, January 22, 2012
I’m wrestling with a painting that says something about a family–mom, dad, daughter depicted as hearts curled up in seedpods that rise from the New Jersey wetlands. It took three years of iterations, influences and changes to get to this point. The image at the top of the blog is close to the final.
My artist friend Ruth Schowalter, aka Hallelujah Truth, http://coffeewithhallelujah.blogspot.com/ visited me in my studio on Friday, and suggested I think of the evolving piece as chapters in a novel, with twists and turns of plot, a title, and synopsis on the back cover. The idea of painting as a book gives me some distance, which helps me pull out meaning from this conundrum of a painting. Here’s one possible story...
Title: Something About A Family by Cecelia Kane
Back Cover Synopsis: Something About A Family is a generational story that begins when the grown daughter, Little Cece, arranges three green pears on an enameled metal plate in 2008. She recognizes a similarity with an idyllic family photo of herself, her mother and father from Easter Sunday,1950 in Shrewsbury Vermont. Kane leads us on a journey through the eyes of Cece back to her roots near the industrial wetlands of urban New Jersey, reconstructing something about a family that cacooned itself against a tough gang-oriented cityscape. The family built a boat shaped like a plate, to navigate the canals and alleyways of an inhospitable city. Through birth, death and resurrection Cece, and the vibrant memories of her dead parents, are born again as harlequin hearts of love nestled in seedpods that rise above the swirling tides and dark nights of Cece's ordinary life–saved in the nick of time from sliding off the edge of the painting.
Chapter 1. 2008 Inspiration from a Plate of Pears (photo-recreation)
Chapter 2. 2008 Visual Connection With An Old Photo
Chapter 3. 2008 Hearts in the City, a mixed media drawing on paper created during a residency at the Hambidge Center in Rabun Gap Georgia, December 2008, 11” x 17”
Chapter 4. 2009 Hearts in the Lonely City, a painting based on the drawing.
It’s a colorful but inanimate rendition of Cece and her family afloat on that enamel plate in a flooded city in New Jersey. Some sort of egg-y goo threatens their ability to navigate this stiff, lifeless town. The father doesn’t match Cece’s memory of her dad who was kind, though mostly absent. Their harlequin garb is too perfect, too strange, too arbitrary. Acrylic on canvas, 40" x 32"
Chapter 5. 2009 Hearts at Home in Chaos, The painting now pulls the three family members together as a huddled mass of color into it’s own protected nest within the coiled streets of the city. Father’s eyes are emotionless sentinels. The plate-boat has morphed into a brick pathway and a new heart slides into the scene. Who is this? The buildings are engulfed in flames and flood. The buildings are more transparent in this version, and writhing in motion. This is industrial New Jersey suffering the effects of overcrowding, dirt and eco-devastation.
Chapter 6. 2009 Hate and Intervention, Cece cannot abide this painting. It does not speak the full truth of her family and early life. On another artist retreat to the Hambidge Center in the north Georgia mountains, Cece has a couple of glasses of wine at dinner, returns at night to her studio retreat, and paints big white ovals in circular brush strokes around the four heart forms. (No photo was taken of this phase...This picture is a Photoshop recreation.)
Chapter 7. 2010 More Interventions, Not knowing where to turn, Cece tries to find her family. She creates a large pond for the four hearts to float in. (This is also a rough recreation). The white circles become more egg-like.
Chapter 8. 2011 Dead Hearts Cece obliterates the windows, and changes the transparent buildings into planar boxes hugging the periphery of the family’s lagoon. The fire has mostly subsided, but flood waters encircle the city and form dark canals between the buildings. The night sky merges with the water. Cece makes the images of the family more heart-like, but now the four creatures are lifeless and colorless, cold and isolated, cacooned in their separate eggs, like plucked, naked chicken bodies-still not her family.
How will Cece get out of this mess?
Chapter 9. 2012 The Black Box In despair, Cece seriously contemplates painting the entire canvas a dense field of black.
Chapter 10. 2012 Seedpods Rise out of the Muck. Cece saves the day by having faith in her family. She boldly removes the top heart creature, returning the family to three.
She restores their harlequin costumes, but simpler now, shaded and nestled in three green flower-like pods that rise out of the urban muck, rooted and resurrected on the brink of sliding off the edge of the painting. Muted windows return to the faces of the boxes and new ghostlike buildings inhabit the swale of wetland pond, swaying with the currents like high rise marsh reeds.
Chapter 11. 2012 The End The story concludes in a triple rebirth and a rising, with just a hint that this may not be the end.
Monday, January 16, 2012
Meet Elliot, my condo neighbor. He and his wife Dell, treated me to a glass of cabernet and some appetizers at The Marlay, a neighborhood Irish bar. We talked of life and death, spirituality, and the possibility of an afterlife. They are followers of Meher Baba, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meher_Baba
a reincarnated divinity who “dropped his body”, as they described it, back in 1969. They have a condo in India near the teacher’s ashram. Their main home in Myrtle Beach, SC is within walking distance of a Meher Baba spiritual center. They meditate, actively practice diminishing the ego, and consider themselves Buddhists. Dell has had numerous “déjà vu” moments when she felt she was communicating with God or the spirits of the dead. They believe in reincarnation. I had to express my regret on that account. I wish I had certainty, and God encounters, but I really never have.
I’m actually creeped out by the idea of reincarnation. Coming back as a tree or a cat or a god sounds Hindu, not the Western-friendly Shambhala Tibetan Buddhism that I am following. It might be frustrating to inhabit the body of a gnat, and have my old memories intact. Would I be thinking bug thoughts? On the other hand, if I did not carry my mind into my new essence, it would be the same as being dead-dead.
This neighborly conversation spurred me to pull out drawings and spiritual diagrams I had created in the late 1990’s. I imagined visual landscapes for states of consciousness, life-death as places, continuums of being, and states of mind. At that time, I was reading Time, Space and Knowledge, the cosmic musings of the Tibetan thinker and Buddhist, Tarthang Tulku, published in 1977.
Here are fourteen of my essence sketches and philosophical diagrams done in marker on yellow or white tracing paper and one embroidery. Some have a sense of humor–others reduce cosmic conundrums to manageable possibilities through the language of drawing and painting.
1. Heart, Brain and Soul (Feelings, Consciousness, Essence)
2 & 3. Life and Death Rooms (They connect to each other.)
4. The Brain-Plain of Self Awareness
5. The Five Aspects of Self:
5a-Detail 1&2, The Ego and the Social Self
5b-Detail 3&4, The Dualistic Self and Transpersonal Self
5c-Detail 5, Cosmic Consciousness
6. The Bell Phenomenon of Birth and Death as a Continuous Entity
7. Now = The Centerless Center of Time
8. Free Will as a Melange of Interconnected Events and Choice Boxes
9. Logic Boxes of Human Perception
10. The Expanded Self in Tubular Time
11. The Apparent Self in Tubular Time #1 and #2
12. Consciousness and Being as Dimensional Levels
13. Cosmic Forces
14. The Dissolution of Self (embroidery)
Saturday, January 7, 2012
Friend Sylvia lent me a vintage, though musty, first edition of Taylor Caldwell’s 1938 novel, “Dynasty of Death”, which I am reading early each morning in bed. Yesterday, a pale grey mite the size of a pencil point leapt out of the opened spine and dashed frantically across, and down the page. I tried to read as fast as he was moving, but he launched himself somewhere into my bed covers–no sign of him anywhere, until I felt an itchy welt rising on my forehead over my left eye. I’m a sucker. Buddhism teaches respect for all life. I actually let him get away and this was my reward. He or she is still at large in the bedroom.
Except for my miniscule bedmate, life in the seven days of 2012 has been a quiet turning away from people and a hunkering down. I’m possessed by another pesky bug who turns out to be a flu-ish courier of wisdom and resolve. Sickness fosters thinking while propped up on the couch. I should listen up because I’m beginning to recover.
I walked into the new year with a grim resolution to cut my credit card debt in half. It’s practical and doable, but not easy. Being a former Catholic enables me to grudgingly adopt a Lenten attitude throughout the year. Hazel, my mother, would sometimes spout her mother’s adage, “Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.” This mindset already was feeling like martyrdom.
But something different popped into my head today while bending down to retrieve a failed shot of used Kleenex that had bounced off the rim of the garbage. A lighthearted crack of awareness beamed into my brain. I can save money and it won’t take forever! I can say no to spending for a year or two. This clarity released a tightness across my ribs as quickly as if I had unpopped my bra. A wave of confidence filled my chest. I stood up and tossed the rumpled tissue squarely in the can.
I drew this Resolution as a pair of wings–gull grey against the uncertain density of 2012. A delicate pink spreads around her heart, which is grided and girded for flight. She rises up, spreads her pale feathered arms in a halo of soft light, all the while
pumping really red blood. Happy New Year All!