In 1997, I traveled to New Mexico to see and experience the landscape that informed the work of Georgia O’Keeffe, who had always been such an inspiration to me as an artist and an independent woman living on her own in the desert. I was awed by the beauty and holiness of that land and this piece in particular was inspired by my visit to the Taos Pueblo.
I have been thinking about how this painting has been leaning up against the wall in two homes and this studio and was never completed until this month. But 18 years ago, my world was very different. I was still grieving the deaths of my brother and my mother (you can read more about that here) and my painting was more therapy for me than vocation. For example, when I dusted this painting off recently, there was a rough sketch of a skeleton in the doorway.
Darkness still pervaded my world. I was also studying figurative sculpture at the time, enjoying the experience of working with clay and live models. But as a friend recently point out as well, I was also in the midst of what I have come to refer to as my “balls-to-the-walls” years as a graphic designer. The bulk of my freelance work at that time was with tech companies like Intel and hp although I had some smaller accounts like Cascade AIDS Project. I didn’t know how to say no then and was putting in somewhere around 70 hours a week working from one deadline to the next.
It was insanity. By the time the dot.com boom crashed and all that business dried up in 2000, I was managing several other designers and grossing $250,000 plus a year. I had a fat bank account but I wasn’t happy. Material possessions held little interest for me since the deaths though I was blessed to buy the sweet 1907 house that I was renting and fixed that up. Paid off my student loans. I also bought my father hearing aides and his first computer. I could help my sister(s) out financially when necessary. Grateful for all of it but at the end of the day, what is it that we are here to do?
Amidst all this frantic busyness, I was volunteering at the Dougy Center facilitating grieving children and the eight years that I spent there witnessing the healing of those children and families is the work I am most proud of in this life. Even though everyone around me including my father and our culture told me that I was a “success,” because I was making a lot of money, I knew in my soul through my own grief journey that life was precious and I was here to follow my heart—with my art and live a life in service to others. I just didn’t know how to make that happen, so life sent me another wake-up call.
In late 2000, I experienced another loss that triggered the profound grief that I had been unable to fully embody a decade before when I was 30 years old. This time, I had the time, money, and spaceousness to dive into it and had several healers including body/energy workers, an acupuncturist, therapist and life coach working with me to process it all. I believe everyone should have access to this type of community healing not just the typical three days off from work to grieve and get back to “normal” which is the heart of so much of our individual and collective trauma in our world. I was fortunate and this was a deeply transformative period of my life that opened the door for me to follow this path of art, spirit, and earth healing that I have been sharing with you over the years.
So in cleaning out the studio this month, I pulled out this painting as you can see at the top. Over the years, I have intentionally avoided creating art inspired by Native American indigenous spirituality as I am mindful of not borrowing from their tradition as a white person. I feel comfortable with the art I have created from the Andean spirituality as I learned and experienced directly from teachers in Peru who want to share their wisdom with those of us in the North. But for some reason this piece asked to be completed at this time. I included the image of Kokopelli that is on the sweet little seed pot (shown here) that I purchased at the Taos Pueblo although I didn’t know he was a fertility deity until after I completed the painting and a friend shared that with me.
Fifteen years later, I am continuing to walk this path and not sure where the journey will take me as I follow my mantra to “Make art. Make Love. Make a Difference.” And beauty making. Always beauty. There is less financial security but there really never is, even if you work for a large corporation. So much is changing in our world. Leap and trust. From the poet David Whyte:
Now is the path
of leaving the path.
And we hear our own voice
demanding of ourselves
a faith in no-path,
when there is no faith at all.
And moving forward takes feral courage,
opens the wildest
most outrageous light of all,
becomes the hardest path of all.
The firm line we drew in the sand
becomes a river we will not cross.
But the river of the soul flows on
and the soul
refuses safety until it finds the sea.
(excerpt from Millennium)