The 6th painting was finished last Saturday afternoon. Cheryl, Allen, and myself were there in the studio; the mood, somber; the lights, bright; our spirits, curved. This session was out of character, or, that is to say it was different. Perhaps, it was the same. Maybe we were out of character or different. Maybe it was me who was out of character. Me who has changed from this project. I suppose we all, at one point or another, find ourselves negotiating ambiguity.
Allen, in front of the canvas, eyes closed, breathing steadied, victim of the unwarranted, broke into painting. Before him, gold, purple, and black contrasted in lines. They were begging for attention. “I am going to paint the day after I was raped” Allen said. He tripped over these words. His body winced. It was if a stranger had whispered this into his ear. After outlining the figure of a woman in dark ominous colors. And after talking through his memories aloud, Allen said something profound – “I was only a tourist in their hell”. That sentence begs to be explained, I thought to myself. Allen continued carving away at his canvas. Contrasting lights and darks through compromising brushstrokes. Allen was giving form to the formless.
As we continued I was entranced with that sentence – I was a tourist in their hell. What a profound statement. I was taken aback, sitting there on a stool, watching Allen paint horror. This man, this brave soul, Allen, in front of me, was painting the day after he was raped. How can words do this justice? It was a passionate, short session. The painting finished. I was a tourist in their hell- these words reverberated me. I queried Allen as to their meaning. He began explaining the complex empathy he had for the children of the Morgan family. Those children did, and still do, live in the most perverted hell. The Morgan children, some of who sexually abused Allen, lived in that house. Allen was only a tourist. These children were raped and sexually abused on a daily basis. Allen was only a tourist. Allen, in self-searching retrospection, came to the conclusion that the children of this family were born into the most horrific of environments. He could only speculate to the abhorred nature of their day to day lives.
We continued talking after the session. Our hearts were heavy. The grimness of this all set in once again. Allen had mentioned another profound statement, another stark realization – At the moment we were painting this, somewhere some child is going through something similar. Somewhere some child is being fractured into an infinite amount pieces. Pieces that may never be put back together. This was a humbling experience. We followed this line of logic into a conversation on our perceptions of societal reality. It is difficult to navigate through this bog without stumping your toe on a contradicting idiom. Nonetheless, we did. We pressed into the heart of the matter. It is important to keep in mind, the raw exchange of energy and life force that takes place during our sessions. Cheryl, who rarely talks about her experience being sexually abused, felt compelled to share a piece of herself. And in her sentiment the question arose once more-- why are we doing this? Why are we sharing this? How is at all possible to navigate the murky waters of this world, on a boat, and save all those who are drowning? We only have so much room on this vessel. There is only so much time. So much food. Shelter. I am not sure. Are we even worthy of saving others? Is this some contradicting concept to bolster our own sense of self-worth? Our sense of purpose?
Perhaps, it is not about changing the world. I at least I feel this way. It is about changing people’s cognitions, their thoughts and actions. That is all an artist can hope for. That moment, when your audience, if only for that fleeting moment in time, are changed. Are given new eyes and a new heart before returning back to the bulwark of their mind. We need to explore the space between our souls. I believe I have rambled long enough. What a life.