When my late husband and I first began dating, he set clear boundaries with regard to his time. Sundays during football season were off limits. He was an avid fan and pretty good at picking the spreads. Saturday mornings were dedicated to painting out on the back patio of his sparsely furnished West Hollywood apartment. So he was pleasantly surprised to find out that I loved football and I, too, had interests I wished to continue to nurture outside of our relationship.
As our lives unfolded and we moved from dating to marriage, from a rental in West Hollywood to our home in Westchester he painted less and instead put his focus entirely on his career and us. When he transitioned from art directing into production design, he had more opportunities to be creative on the job. But it wasn’t until we moved to Vancouver, Canada to work on a feature film he was designing that he made a return to the canvas.
Five months prior, Gary had been diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Disease. He was only 34 years old. He started chemotherapy in July and was hired onto the film in August. We headed north of the border in October, while he was in the middle of a six month regimen of chemotherapy, and moved into a large rental house with a huge basement. The minute Gary saw it; he was inspired.
He headed to the local art store and loaded up the SUV with paints, brushes and canvases…HUGE canvases. We wrangled them into the basement along with a boom box, spread some plastic on the floor and he got to work. For the first time in years, Gary was painting again. He was rusty in the beginning but the process gave him some peace during a time in which he was suffering physically from the side effects of the chemo and emotionally from the strain of coping daily with a cancer diagnosis.
One night, Gary emerged from the basement with a long lost glow on his face. He told me he had been working on one of his canvases. His process involved the layering of paint then a high gloss finish then more paint. On this particular evening, the piece he was working on was not turning out as he envisioned. Frustrated with his efforts, he started into a philosophical questioning with himself as to what made something art. He pondered as to where creativity and art sprang from. At some point, he decided the work in progress was not art but simply a waste of time. In a moment of anger, Gary took a brush and dunked it into some yellow paint he had nearby. He splattered the paint at the canvas, to seal its fate as a work he would never finish. As soon as the yellow landed on the canvas, he experienced a shift and, to him, it became art and he named it “The Source.”
For Gary, connecting with his anger, disappointment and frustration and expressing it physically onto the canvas allowed him tap into something larger than himself…something he could not control or make happen.
This painting became a touchstone for both of us, especially as his health declined. It reminded us that there is something larger than ourselves we can connect to and that, in a moment, everything can change from a darker place to experiencing enlightenment. His creativity became a source of healing and gave us some peace that somehow in all of the suffering, good could still come from the challenging times.
The painting still hangs on my wall as a daily reminder that I have access to “The Source” at any moment. Though Gary is nine years gone from my life, his work continues to inspire me and for this I am truly thankful.
Today’s blog was written for KOTA Press, an amazing website by talented artist & writer, Kara Chipoletti Jones. Check out her KOTA Press blog which features creative and artistic posts by Kara and other wonderful writers on healing from loss. Thanks, Kara, for all you and KOTA Press contribute.