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Archive for April, 2010

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This is how I feel

The minute I sat in front of a canvas I was happy. Because it was a world, and I could do what I liked with it. (Alice Neel)

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Candlelight. Blue, red, yellow flashes in the cornea. Young moist eyes. Pungent aromas off of the burning incense surround the people gathered there. Hot wax and the faint perfume swirl around, adding to the sadness. The church is dim. The cross, its occupant seeming to turn his royal head to look out on the crowd with compassion, a compassion that so many modern Christians think they understand and even try to possess…but so much of the time, we fall short of the compassion expressed by the figure overseeing our grief, understanding our joy, the one who comforts us in our pain.

This article is a tribute. Now, I don’t write tributes for individuals very often. Even when the language seems individualistic at first, it often takes shape as a societal conversation. But make no mistake, this article is about an individual. It’s taken me a long time to write it, to form it, to speak it and to hear it, however, I think she would want to hear, to see. The person I am speaking about, writing about, thinking about, is Carol Crawford. Many people, including those who were closer to her than I was in blood and time investment, have expressed who she was to them. How she lived for them. How much she would be missed. This article is not to rival anything that’s been said, done, or thought about Carol Crawford before. I am just doing something, in this writing, that I feel she would want me to do.

In the time that we knew each other, she threw open the doors to her heart, her mind, and her soul for me in a way that very few people have done for me in my life. For that, I owe her. I could easily paint you a portrait of Carol as mother and as friend. What I am trying to do here, however, is show a different side. For me, Carol was a fellow thinker. She was willing to entertain the most radical aspects of our conversations. Carol was one of those types, the rare types, who in faith could take on questions that would shake anyone else’s foundation. I would express to her some of the most atheistic concepts, and in them she would find God. She would argue with me; she didn’t HAVE to agree with me, because we were friends.

I think the rarest thing of all about Carol is that once she knew you, once she took you in (and that was difficult to do), she would embrace you. Now, she was kind to everyone, but it was within her criticism…it was when she felt comfortable enough to say, “Hey, I don’t necessarily agree with what you just said” or “That’s an inappropriate way to handle that situation” that she became real within that criticism and you became real in her circle. Note that her kindness to strangers, i.e. people outside her circle, was genuine. She did try to practice compassion. It was a compassion closer to the Buddhist idea than I think she even realized. It was a compassion that recognized its own constant need for retooling and improvement.

She and I shared a strange bond that I don’t get to talk about with many people, and really I cannot believe I am sharing it so publically. But I think she would want me to express this. I had a key to Carol Crawford’s Pandora box. I saw her dirty laundry, and she helped me (as I did her) wash it on the rocks in the river of life, a river that she admittedly very cautiously waded into. When she waded into that river, though…she took on the current. Carol did not like everyone. But she loved without want. I take that back. She wanted something…

She wanted peace.

Not peace without the uncomfortableness of life. Not some utopian ideal. But instead, the peace possessed within the artistic mind, ever shaping and moulding a better world, one that could embrace inexhaustible difference. One that could use that difference to carve out a home for all the dispossessed of the world. She was a caretaker on an island of misfit toys. I loved her for that. In fact, I still love her for it.

A little known thing about Carol is that she wanted to be an artist. Now, many of you who knew her know of her love for the theater, but she never quite felt that she had reached her artistic maturity. So many times she would say to me, especially in the rough times, “I wish Magic Makers would call me, and I could just design costumes for the rest of my life.” Carol Crawford was an artist. She was a designer. She was a painter, a sculptor, of life. Yes, those within her family know this about her, and some of her close friends may have an idea of how much she identified as an artist…But Carol didn’t always see it. She saw that things could always be better, and in her constant striding toward that goal, she took on people’s emotion, became their mother, rehabilitated them, into the love that she understood the world to be.

In the previous two weeks, I have been wracked with thoughts of her. Yes, it is true that I connected her to a mother ideal. It is true that i consider her a best friend. But recently, in my dreams of her, the idea of Carol Crawford, artist, has revealed itself. Now, with this new vision of her, an idea that I had in the back of my mind during our whole waking life together has come to fruition. I have connected with her even more strongly than before as my understanding of her as an artist has come to the forefront of my consciousness. In that connection, I often think about how she is active in my life presently because Carol and I both believed that the individual can have an effect on the physical world from a metaphysical plane. I think about Carol and Megan, her daughter, on a regular basis, but moreso lately because of the sentencing of her killer. I think to myself, what would Carol and Megan’s response be to this woman if they had a chance to vocalize their feelings at present? For Carol, I know without a doubt her response would be compassion. Yes, she would be extremely angry, but she would see that person’s family as she would her own, and I know she would reach out in compassion. For Megan, who Carol often told me was a young soul that was bound to be forever young…Megan would, I am sure, give the children of this woman a hug, and if given the chance she might even hug her killer.

In the nave at St. Joe’s, on that evening of the candlelight vigil, I was too struck with grief to step back, to examine. I wondered why I had not been killed by the car that had run me over only a few months before. Carol had been one of the first responders at the emergency room. In fact, she was the first person that rolled off my tongue when the chaplain at St. Mary’s Hospital asked me who I wanted him to contact. She and I, I think, were soul mates. In fact, we still are. She understood me for who I was in full, and believe me I’m not always nice to be around. And I did the same for her. We accepted each other, even at our worst moments. Sometimes Carol would even tell me that she needed space from me because we had such a Vulcan mind-meld that a week’s time was a well needed breather. For what it’s worth, this is my tribute to Carol Crawford, an artist with the medium of compassion.

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“Mother & Child”

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Modern Spectator

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Seated, Empty Chair

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For The Miners

Fingernails slash roughly into thick oil paint. It’s a built in palatte knife, the fingernail. The finger moves the paint in a swirl of modernist, non representational movement. The artist takes a rough hoghair brush and tamps it into the mass of color spreading in the void of everything, catching the emotion of sunlight as a snowstorm begins to swirl. With a breath, J.M.W. Turner (b. 1775, d. 1851) pauses and takes a step back from his canvas. He knows that he’s done something in the capturing of this thing called emotion that many around him would flatly reject. The history painting ruled his day, and although his atmospheric snapshots were often included in history paintings, they would not be understood because of the visceral physical gesture captured they would not be understood for their full vocabulary for some time after the artist’s passing. The english painter J.M.W. Turner did not live a life of tragedy at the same scale as, say, Van Gogh. His far seeing technique was well beyond his age. I did not come to understand him until recently. Now I rank him among my favorites.

Sometimes we do not see things because we are not ready to see them; we do not hear things because we have not developed enough, collected and gathered enough maturity in order that we might hear the thing as it should be heard…and we cannot often feel the full impact of a life experience until much later in the journey. I remember when I first read the book The Giver. Even on first reading, I was left breathless. But you know, I go back to that book every so often because it reminds me of an ancient puzzle, always unlocking and reminding me of things in the present. In its simple story, there are complex moments; for example, the main character, a young boy who lives in a black and white world, has never seen color, not one glimmer of it. Then one day, when he is tossing an apple into the air, in mid throw as it flies up to fall down, he sees a flash of red. In that second, a seed is planted that for him means that his world is not as simple as the black and white humdrum of mass culture. I did not understand the full impact of this moment, either as I was reading it originally or as i continued to read it through the years. But now, at the age of 32, I have a clearer picture. I can see the detail that had eluded me. I am a different person than I once was.

Note that I don’t think that anyone can truly say that everything is understood by them. Good art, good thinking, always can be revisited, rehashed, and reborn, into new self awareness. Not everyone understands this. Now, it’s not a jem of some cosmic truth, but people often simply miss the point. They read too much or too little into every action and/or reaction.

This week, twenty five miners died, I could not help but think, as I do about everything, where were each one of those miners in the walk of life? What were they thinking about, what did they understand anew, what gifts had been brought to the world through their hands, their hearts, and their minds? I could not help but think about their reality as individuals, and the impact that their community would feel. How long it would take for the families to come to terms even if they ever could. All this swirled in my mind at 3 AM as it broke through the white noise of my television. Then an interview with an early morning news program. A typical family from the coal fields answered questions in an unmistakeable coal field drawl, and then at the end the mother said, “And we have not even gotten word from the coal company that our loved one is dead. We heard it in and through the community.”

The way we treat the coal industry reminds me of my first true look at J.M.W. Turner. His stormy skies brought to life through slashes and heavy brush marks, were always there. I was just too naive to see them. I had classified it as a type of realism and filed his paintings away as not being relevant to my time, style, and taste. Now with a fresher mind, I see him everywhere in my work. It is these new eyes that we need to cast upon the coal industry. We need to say that we recognize the historical patterns and we demand that you change, because in the end, the industry is not betting that anyone will approach them with a fresh perspective. They view environmentalists as crazy reactionaries and historically, they’ve painted a picture of the environmental movement in this way (noting that some in the environmental movement have helped in the creation of this stereotype). They view the worker as simply that: a mechanized gadget to improve profit margin. And the rest of the masses outside of the industry and the environmental movement? They historically see them as cows, simply interested in chewing their cud, in this case the cud being electricity. We must cast new eyes on the coal industry and see their pattern for what it is. We must galvanize as a mass culture to demand changes, changes that should be brought about not just by the blood of these 25 victims, but by a whole history of a people being oppressed here in the colonial land of Appalachia. For what it’s worth, wipe away the cataracts which are the filmy residue built up over the mind’s eye of the society, and we can make a difference.

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