Wow, rough week! Just when you think you’ve entered calm waters, out of nowhere some kind of psychic wave crashes over you.
There have been three or four watershed events, in my life, that have radically changed how the world occurs for me. The first was my first experience with LSD. The fact that everything appeared different to me, while under the effects of the drug, opened me to that there may be things beyond my perception. Leslie’s death has jarred me that way, although not as pleasantly.
I’ve made a lot of mental maneuvers to try and make sense out of what’s happened or, rather, to construct some kind of meaning. Holding that all together is more work than I realized and a seemingly insignificant event shattered it all in a second. The illusion of meaning I had so cleverly duct taped together crashed down on my head. leaving me feeling foolish and deluded.
Fortunately I have friends who impossibly manage to tolerate these manic episodes. They listen calmly and stand at a safe distance until they can get close enough to put their arms around me and say, “Deep breath.” “You’re OK.” “You’re held closely and dearly.” “I consider it a gift each time you choose to share your staggering”.
I went out painting with a friend last week and came across a small herd of cows lounging in the sun. They were the same type of cows that I often see in Roos Schuring’s paintings. She’s a fantastic painter in Holland. I wrote about her back in Aug 2012.
I’ve been thinking a lot about how to express my current conundrum visually. Thinking is usually not the best way to get at this kind of thing but I’m afraid of making work that is trite or exploits or cheapens this and I’m especially wary of this since it’s not only my experience. Many people loved Leslie and may have feelings about how or what I express. That being said, I’ve been making some drawings and trying to find a way to start.
I’m sharing a couple of the drawings here.
6″ x 7″ gouache black and white ink on paper
9″ x 6″ gouache black and white ink on paper
As I start this, I realize I could explore this for a long time.
Wicker Lunch Basket and Medicine Bottle 14″ x 11″ oil on linen panel
Some more of Les’ things here. She didn’t use the basket but she bought it for our daughter to use for school, when she was very young. The cloth she used to wear as a kind of wrap around skirt at the beach, when we first met and the house is full of these brown medicine bottles. Les loved alternative medicine and up to the last day she was conscious, she used the stuff in that bottle.
I’ve had this and another on the easel for a while. I’m not sure I’m finished. I want to let it sit for a while. Sometimes when I get to this point with a painting, I decide it’s better to just start another than to continue to worry this one. I’ve painted a few versions of this scene now, each a little different.
I delivered the paintings for my first solo show in many years to Brian Marki Fine Art yesterday. I have one more piece I’d like to finish for the show, if Brian doesn’t mind hanging a wet painting.
“Building a New Life From the Wreckage of My Old Life” 21″ x 27″ oil on linen panel
The image above is the piece I’d like to finish for the show, in it’s current state. It still seems a little chaotic but that is true to my current experience. I don’t usually put a lot of thought into titles. They’re mainly just for me to keep them straight in my mind but, given recent events, this piece has begun to occur for me as a view into my life. I need to reconstruct a new life out of what appears to me now as the wreckage of my old life and this painting expresses that for me. It may not be pretty but it holds promise.
I have to say that, in spite of the fact that I’m not often referred to as a real “up” kind of person, I have been surprised at my ability to find positive meaning in my wife’s death.
For one thing, it was such a privilege and relief to be able to see Leslie on to a peaceful and meaningful death. It was the perfect completion of our relationship. Four years ago, when Leslie’s cancer became metastatic, the primary purpose of my life became to see to it that Les was taken care of and had a good death and I lived to fulfill that promise. So many women have to go through this alone. I am grateful that Les was loved and cherished and nurtured and adored to her last minutes. Well beyond her last minutes, in truth.
I have also been overwhelmed with love and support from friends and family. My relationships have been enriched by Les’ passing. I have made new friends who have made profound contributions to my life.
Leslie continues to nurture me even in death. I was rooting through the freezer and found a treasure. Two containers of Les’ wonderful beef stew.
My stomach and heart are both full of love. I miss Leslie’s physical presence but I feel her with me all the time. I’m a very fortunate man.
Yesterday, June 29, was the 34th anniversary of the day I met the best friend I’ve ever had, my wife, Leslie Robinson. We married 2 years later and drove across the country from Eastern Long Island, NY to Portland OR. Leslie was a singer/songwriter and I was a painter. She gave up her singing career when our first daughter, Emily was born, in the hospital we can see from the deck of our little house. I quit painting when Les bore our second daughter, Clair in the front bedroom of that house.
Leslie now lays dying, surrounded by that family in the living room of that house. Although my heart is breaking, I feel privileged to be able to help her complete her life and make a safe crossing to whatever is next.
Les hated posing so I don’t have a lot of paintings of her but, on our adventures, she usually wore a red coat that I loved painting.
Les was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1999. She chose to do an alternative therapy instead of chemotherapy and radiation. After treatment, Les remained symptom free for 9 years. When the cancer recurred, she did radiation and hormone therapy, which gave her 4 more years with relatively few symptoms. She tried chemotherapy a few months ago and just couldn’t stand the side effects, so she chose to stop treatment.
We have been very fortunate to have had so much time together. Les and I knew this was coming and are as prepared as anyone can be for such a thing.
I have found solace in the book “The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying” by Sogyal Rimpoche, over the years and have begun reading it again. …
“Men come and they go and they trot and they dance, and never a word about death. All well and good. Yet when death does come to them, their wives, their children, their friends – catching them unawares and unprepared, then what storms of passion overwhelm them, what cries what fury what despair!…
To begin depriving death of its greatest advantage over us, let us adopt a way clean contrary to that common one; let us deprive death of it’s strangeness, let us frequent it, let us get used to it; let us have nothing more often in mind than death … We do not know where death awaits us: so let us wait for it everywhere. To practice death is to practice freedom. A man who has learned how to die has unlearned how to be a slave.” ~ Michel de Montaigne, The Essayus of Michel de Montaigne
A friend and I drove out to Ranier, OR to paint at the defunct Trojan Nuclear Plant (now a park) but there was not much there we were interested in painting so we drove on into the nearby town of Ranier, which is right on the Columbia river. These 2 paintings were done from a parking lot in the town.
I try to do a self portrait every year around my birthday (My birthday is in March and you can look back through the archives to see other entries in the series). The project started around an assignment I was given in college to do a self portrait as I was then (20-ish years old) and then another predicting how I thought I’d look at age 60. I turned 60 this year so it’s sort of the completion of the project but I’ve been having a hard time producing the painting.
This painting was not intended to be the official yearly selfie but I offer it now until I get serious about completing the project.
The actual intention of this painting was to paint it over again pushing it as far as I could before I got bored with it. I repainted over the same canvas over the course of 6 days and this is where it ended up. Below are photos of the canvas at the end of each session
I went with a friend to paint at the Portland Train station – Union Station. It was supposed to rain so I proposed we meet there and paint from under the cover of the overpass across the street from the station. It worked out pretty well. It rained hard and I only got a little wet (from a drain in the overpass) This is the resulting painting.
“Outside Union Station” 9″ x 12″ oil on linen panel
The hunting season is over on Sauvie Island, and I headed over to paint last weekend. Unfortunately, when I was half way there, I realized I had forgotten to pack any panels to paint on. This is the second time I’ve done this. I suppose age is catching up with me. Rather than turn back, I continued on knowing that I had my watercolor paintbox and sketchbooks along.
“Multnomah Channel” 7 x 10 watercolor
I went to a part of the island where I haven’t painted for several years and found a nice spot along the Multnomah Channel ( a narrow side channel of the Wilamette River, and started the piece above as several sailboats and fishing boats came and went. While I waited for the colors to dry on this one, I started the one below, of the same subject.
“Multnomah Channel sketch 5 x 8 watercolor and ink
I moved on down the road and did one more from a spot I painted a few years ago. It’s a view of the famous volcano, Mt St Helens, across the cow patures.
Mt St Helens from Sauvie Island gouache
I was hoping for some cows but they didn’t show up until later
The weather has been especially wonderful in Oregon this spring. Although I’m tied to my home office during the work week, I’ve stolen enough time to do a few little studies outside. These two were painted from the deck of my office.
“Montgomery Park On a Wet Night” 37″ x 48″ oil on linen
This studio painting was painted from sketches I’ve done over recent years. Montgomery Park dominates the night sky with it’s neon sign. It is a landmark that can be seen from many view points around the North West neighborhoods of Portland.
This relatively new neighborhood sprung up seemingly overnight on the South West shore of the Wilamette River in Portland. The most prominent resident is the Oregon Health Sciences University Hospital. The main hospital is on a hill overlooking the river and the two campuses are connected by a tram (not pictured here).
I’ve done some sketching from the upper campus, looking down to this one. Here is one I did in 2010, when there were fewer buildings.
I spent 12 days in Kauai with my family. It was great to get away and spend time together in beautiful Kaua’i. The cones of my eyes are now so used to bright sun and saturated colors that everything looks one color now that I’m home in the grey Pacific NW.
I slipped away to do a little bit of sketching but I really wasn’t prepared for the intensity of the sun when I wasn’t in the shade.
7″ x 10″ watercolor in sketchbook
This was done in Hanalei, near the north end of the island. It’s a surfer beach, I forget the name of this particular one.
7″ x 10″ watercolor
I never figured out the name of this mountain in Anahola on the east shore. I found a nice shady spot at the dead end of the road to do this one.
7″ x 10″ water color and ink
There was a large vacant spot, between resort condos, on the beach near Kapaa on the east shore. The beach was quiet and I was pretty much on my own here. If you didn’t look back to shore, it was easy to imagine being on a deserted island. This is the view in the opposite direction.
When I turned around toward the ocean, this is was the view:
Alex, if you’re reading, I tried to answer your email but my reply was returned. You may have mistyped your email address.
Montgomery Park in the rain – 6″ x 8″ watercolor and ink
This old Montgomery Ward store was converted, years ago, into Montgomery Park and is now used as office space and convention center. When it was built, in 1920, it was the largest building in Portland.
“Betsy Arntz Barge Under Construction” 30″ x 40″ oil on linen
This is a painting of the Betsy Arntz barge while being built at the Vigor Industries Shipyard on Swan Island, Portland, OR. I believe the barge is a double hulled oil barge in service in the Seattle area.
I could hang out here and draw for years, if they’d let me. Unfortunately the only times I’ve been there were during the Industry and Art shows, which were held in one of their hangars the last two years.