I recently learned that a very dear friend has Lupus. She is the sister that fate brought me through shared life experience rather than shared parenting. I didn’t even meet her until I was 28 years old. She is a painter. A woman whose everyday vocabulary includes the words: pirates, saints, epiphany and grace. Not only are these notions in her vocabulary in equal measure they are used with the comfort of one who knows them intimately, from experience, rather than the forced effort of adhering to a belief. Her painting is light years beyond most of the living world and it’s history. She shares the lofty heights with the likes of Gauguin, Rodin and Picasso. In other words with those humans whose vision is to express what, only, they hear with paints. A visionary who has heard clearly the clarion calls of the muses from the age of eight.
When I met her she was in her 40’s. Living, with her young daughter, on a small Island, 11 miles off the coast of Panama. There were 3 cars on that island of fisherman. Three cars, 2 roads, a few hundred locals, a couple of expatriates, poison dart frogs and one of the most beautiful jacaranda trees I have ever seen. I still think of it as one of my homes. It holds the memories of my pregnancy with my son and the first land based house he dwelled in. It is where I heard him tell me his name was Rafael before he was born. Where I heard him say that this artist was important in his life. So important, she is his godmother. It was the place of Gauguin’s convalescence as he recovered from malaria contracted while he worked on the Panama Canal, presumably to afford the means to affect his vision in the physical
My friend also used the Island to gain the means to affect her vision and seed it, here, in the physical. The slower pace of life, tourists and considerable faith on her part allowed her 5 or so years to paint, paint and paint. If you are not this type of artist you may not realize that like any path it takes years to develop yet does not pay well while you gain dirt time. Maybe your art is engineering or business management. Those allow increased proficiency to be gained while affording a living. Painting as with writing takes a kind of moonlighting to feed the muse as it were. You hear the call or see the picture and then you must bring it here to share with others while you continue to provide for your living.
In my case, I hear the stories all day long. Everything I look at sparks a response. It’s a dance, a picture an essay a movie. Sometimes grace allows the time to put it on paper. More and more, this is the case as my kids age. But there have been years where all I could do was listen to the stories unfold while I washed dishes or bandaged a knee. It’s the same for painters. I think that’s why so many of this type of artist realize the Truth of Grace. There is just a time when things happen. Many spend more time painting in their head while working as a barista or hat maker than on canvas. Before my friend moved to Panama she did just that. As a matter of fact hat maker is on her resume along with postal carrier, park ranger and cartographer. Like ditch digger may have been on Gauguin’s resume if he had one, which isn’t likely. But those years on that Island she was “just” a painter. “La Gringa, La Artista” (The White Woman, The Painter) the locals called her.
My husband and I used to joke about her and “The Hand of God” that guided her through the streets of Panama during minor incursions and near misses with tear gas and petty thieves as she went to buy her paints. “The hand of God” was palpable in her presence. Without a doubt she is a soul moving toward eternity.
Now, 20 years later, on the days she can paint, she requires 2-3 days to recover. On the other days she cannot lift her hands above her waist. Her daughter is grown and on her own. Her time is again hers…well not really but we’ll leave it that way for now. A painterly painter of large juicy canvases and she cannot lift her arms higher than her waist.
She said to me the other day “Well…it’s not how I imagined this part of my life was going to be…but I am SO grateful for all the years of painting. And now I might be the first person on the block bald!!”
While my eyes burned with tears and my stomach hurt from laughing my heart soared because there was the Grace that I have seen emanating from her from the first moment I saw her. The grace of the One infusing the physical…absolute acceptance, total revelry, fascination, humor and thankFULLness for ALL that is…even when it’s not so pretty and maybe a bit scary. I’d call that harmony.