Sunday, November 6, 2016

ON COURAGE

Courage, Final version_2014, 6 ft x 4 ft, oil stick, ink, acrylic, charcoal and gauze

Dearest Readers,
I’m thinking about courage today, walking through the woods musing on the possible definitions–trying to find words that explain my winged representation in the painting above. Courage is one of my three large works on human goodness currently on view through November at the Gilmore Gallery in the Peacham Vermont library. Several viewers at the show’s opening reception asked for reasons why I chose the imagery of wings. I stumbled through my answers. 

Wikipedia says, "Courage (also called bravery or valor) is the choice and willingness to confront agony, pain, danger, uncertainty or intimidation." A romantic painting entitled “Godspeed!”, by Edmund Leighton (1852-1922) accompanied their definition.
Godspeed-Edmund Leighton

Courage for me is personal and entwined with the natural world. It is a pair of wings to wear in difficult times. It is a flying machine for facing death, inspired by birds and branches that reach for the sky. But this is only part of it.
Helping-Hand-Wings for Hazel Who Was Afraid of Death-21 in x 16in, ink and pastel on paper, 2003

After my mother died in 1997, I drew her a pair of imaginative wings made out of “helping hand” gloves, with velcro-fastened shoulder straps and headlights to smooth her transition from this life and beyond. I saw the fear in her eyes when the priest arrived to administer the last rights. I realized that I too wanted assistance at the end.
Cecelia at Hambidge Center with early Courage wings-Dec. 2009
Wings at Hambidge Center with shoulder straps and white "feathers"-Dec. 2009

In December 2009 during a month-long artist residency at the Hambidge Center for Arts and Sciences in the North Georgia mountains, I began my painting that I now call “Courage”. It was a long time coming. I found two branches on the forest floor and mimicked their wing-like curves in ink, acrylic and charcoal. I added eyes to see in the dark and strips of painted gauze as feathers that I later changed to pure white. I sewed my own pair of silk covered shoulder straps that fit my body perfectly. I could “wear” my courage on the wall.
Courage-mid-point 2010

Later the sky in the center changed from cheerful blue to a deep and cosmic blue-green blended by hand from oil-sticks. Planets and stars dotted the universe beyond.  I slashed two angled gashes in rough red paint and created a high color focal point in the middle.
Left to Right_Sally_Cecelia_Ruth in Hambidge mirror_2009

I sent the painting a year later as a gift to an Atlanta friend, Sally Wylde in hospice in Massachusetts with breast cancer. Sally and Ruth Schowalter, friends from Decatur GA in 2009 visited me during my stay at Hambidge when the painting took shape and Sally was going through chemo and radiation. We took a selfie in my Hambidge cottage bathroom mirror. Sally is left, Ruth is right. I’m the somber one in the middle. After Sally’s death in 2010, her husband Btitt Dean gave the wings back to me.  I kept it rolled up.

In 2013 I found the courage to unfurl it on my studio wall. I ripped off one foot of “superfluous” painting on either end. This was an act of courage to potentially destroy it, but now I needed to make it less personal and more universal.

I removed the “cutesy” straps at once, and in 2014 I painted over the all-seeing eyes that felt like they were judging. There. Done!

So, what is courage?
For me it is stepping out of a comfortable space and taking the risk to move forward into the unknown, trusting in whatever the outcome brings. It is not the absence of fear. It is releasing hold of safety, and free-falling into what must be done. It is accepting help and wearing the wings.





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