I’m an artist. Well, at least I’ve been masquerading as one for a long time. If the creative awards that dot my office shelves mean anything, I’ve pretty much gotten away with it, too. For most of my adult life, I’ve worked as an illustrator and graphic designer both at in-house in ad agencies as well as in my own house, partnered with my husband in an agency of our own. Shockingly, people actually paid me well for my work, which is kind of handy when it’s your livelihood. Yet, having been completely self taught, I’ve never felt like I fully stuck the landing. In a world where college degrees are your admission ticket and even proof that you are relevant, my lack of educational credentials was always my Achilles heel. Still, somewhere along the way I graduated the school of hard knocks, leaving behind old insecurities about not being good enough. Now, I figure that my website, and all it contains, speaks for itself, thank you, so love it or leave it.
That being said, I still regularly get serious crushes on those authentic, passionate artists who live their art on their own terms. I have a healthy envy for the badass artists who bring it, delivering their passion in everything they do. They are the ones who allow the craft to drive them and not the other way around.
I’ve never been that artist.
Sure, my artwork has evolved through the years as I have. My signature pen and ink and watercolor pieces have morphed into Photoshop art and a yen for photography. The world of original art in advertising has gone the way of stock photography — and my work along with it. Still, none of my art or photography could have inspired me in the dark place I found myself after my husband died. What I needed, I had no ability to create for myself.
Watching TV, while web surfing one night, (I multi-task) I came upon the website of an inspired California artist, Paul Bond, whose art knocked my socks off. As images of gorgeous, uniquely imagined art flowed onto my computer screen, I was totally captivated. But, the stories and poetry that inspired those pieces were what drew me in. When my eyes landed on a print called “The Arrival”, something resonated deeply within me. I had only to read the inscription about what inspired this painting to know this print belonged in my house.
“Alone. Seemingly abandoned, but unafraid. The figure stands as if casually waiting for someone who is just out of view in the distance. It speaks to our ultimate aloneness in the world. Yet there is a strength, self-reliance and peace in her aloneness.”
I needed those words. I needed them to sustain and motivate, strengthen and assure me that there was, indeed, life ‘out there’. But also, like this inscription, I felt alone and ‘abandoned’ by the man who had been my other half. He was now ‘out of view, in the distance’ and I was starkly alone on a rocky island and I suspect most, in the midst of grief, feel exactly that way. We see few glimpses of land and even when there are people around us, can still feel starkly alone.
Art is another world. It doesn’t tell us what to do. It doesn’t lecture or offer platitudes. Yet it can open the senses, make us think, move us, as I was by an unexpected image. Art, music, plays, poems, and books can all transport us to a new place, a new way of thinking we had never before considered. Some art is born to communicate something; some to express it. Once upon a time I dreamed of being able to do just that; now I appreciate and am grateful to those who actually do.
When I was in grammar school I remember seeing Hokusai’s The Wave and Mondrian’s Broadway Boogie Woogie. They couldn’t have been more different. Yet, they were both lasting masterpieces and, to a kid in eighth grade Art Appreciation, really pretty cool. (Hello? Why isn’t art appreciation taught in school anymore?)
Going through my old art samples one day, I was amazed at the sheer amount of work I somehow executed through the years. Along with ink portraits that still hang in people’s homes, fashion and childrens book illustrations, I found a charcoal sketch I did at 12, that was a halfway decent image of the Pieta. (My second grade sketch of the Blessed Mother with a cigarette did not go over half as well with the nuns.) I leafed through advertising art galore as they formed a map of my transformation as a creative. None, however, show the transformation of soul, of life experience and later the grief that would totally reshape me.
“The Arrival” now hangs over my bed. Though I splurge on few things, I knew that man of mine would have approved this acquisition. (Who am I kidding? He was the guy who collected enough stuff to fill an entire room! Of COURSE, he would have approved.) The now framed print has become such an integral part of the room, I often forget it’s there. I just have to glance at the brave, solitary figure with her uplifted umbrella, however, to know, that just like her, I have changed. These last months have painted their own colors in me and though I’m still alone, I’m not isolated or lonely on that rocky island of grief.
For years now I’ve had standing gramma movie dates (until they age out and prefer their friends as movie companions). I’m that grandmother who inevitably cries at animated movies like Toy Story 3, something that mystifies the kids. “Grandma, it wasn’t that sad!”. (Really?) I also wax euphoric about the incredible animation artwork, nearly drooling with envy at the talent that creates those Pixar movies. If only . . .
I’ll never be another Norman Rockwell — or Paul Bond. And that’s okay. For now I paint in words and, like the woman in the painting over my bed, have come to realize the “strength, self-reliance and peace in her aloneness.”
Maybe, I’m a badass after all.