WARNING: This is a very personal blog post. In it, grief and art come together.
Yesterday I was shocked and stunned: I found out that Ray Dorge, my former life partner of 25 years, had died. Even though Ray and I separated 10 years ago (by my instigation), we kept in touch with the odd email. As much as I wanted a closer connection, Ray said he wanted to keep me at arm’s length. He said it hurt too much to spend time with me. I respected his wishes even though it saddened me that we rarely got together to catch up on our lives nevermind recall shared memories. I kept meaning to push him on it but I never did.
And now it’s too late. Ray died of aggressive brain cancer on 14th December 2017. Yet I only just heard this very sad news yesterday and only by accident. I find it very painful that no one thought to tell me of Ray’s passing even if Ray himself didn’t want to me to know of his condition while he was alive.
Anyway, I now know. And I’m deeply saddened. I can’t seem to function that well. But rather than try to block or avoid the pain, today I turned to art. Grief and art. I had no plan other than to sink into the art-making process and just go where it took me.
I picked up a piece of paper – Canson Mi-Teintes Touch paper. It’s paper I rarely turn to. I felt that using it, especially a white sheet, would release me from craving a good outcome since I didn’t really care how the painting looked in the end. It really was all about the process.
I selected pastels in browns and greys, colours I rarely choose. These seemed appropriate to my purpose somehow. And in keeping with the dark rainy day outside.
In my studio, the silence was crushing. At the same time, I decided against playing music I knew Ray would like, or any music that would further sink me into sadness. And so I chose randomly – Kaytranada’s album 99.9% which turned out to be perfect. (And I’m listening to it as I write this post.)
And now allow me to share my grief and art journey with you through a sequence of images.
At this point, I sat in my pondering chair and looked at the piece. What did it need? Although I had entered this experience as a process rather than an outcome, about combining grief and art, my artist mind started to kick in and now was thinking about the design of the piece.
It turned out that this was actually the best part of doing this journey of grief and art. I was later fascinated by the way my rational brain took over, thinking about balance, and values, and colour, and texture, about edge and dominance.
But at the same time, I pondered meaning. How was I to make meaning from this essentially non-objective piece? And then out of nowhere came an image of grieving figures. So I surrendered and began adding them, changing the work towards a more representational image.
And then what? Without warning, a memory of a painting by Anselm Kieffer at the Seattle Art Museum came to me. It’s a huge canvas of sunflowers towering over a prostrate man (see below for the painting). And I realized, yes, I wanted to add a horizontal figure, one that represented Ray in death.
A few tweaks done and then that was it.
This total immersion in the creative process was hugely therapeutic. It was as if the process offered a safe place to release the tensions of sadness and anger. It embraced me fully and gave me a conduit to express my feelings. It gave me a place, to speak and externalize my grieving.
I know the roller coaster of emotions is far from ended with fragments of memories spearing me in my heart at unexpected moments, but with painting, I could sink into myself and what I was feeling. One thing I realized was that because I hadn’t been told of Ray’s death, I hadn’t been able to say goodbye to him. So this mixture of grief and art is my farewell, my closure, my acceptance of Ray’s passing.
Thank you for taking this grief and art journey with me. Healing really can begin with an expression of feelings through art. As always, I’m interested in your voice so please feel free to add your own experiences or how this post may have affected you.
With deep thanks,
Here’s the painting by Anselm Kiefer:
And the rainy, dark painting day!