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Saturday, October 10, 2009

Night 4 and Beyond: My Mother and Georgia O'Keefe

I remember once falling asleep in art history class. The older, almost Russian attaché appearing gent, a marvelous professor, didn't appreciate my closed-eye presence in the seat closest to the podium. I seem to remember we were somewhere between Monet's late work and Munch's Scream. It certainly wasn't a commentary on my interest but more so a commentary on the basement-cold massive cement theatre at 7 AM with no coffee in hand after a long night with a small child crouping. He tapped me on the foot with his cane, immediately successful in rousing me from my slumber and instigating a deep red flush across my face, and rewarded my new found alertness with a deserved glare I shall never forget.

I swore off the next period class in that room--American Modern. Hence my understanding of this period of art is less than what it could be. So, needless to say, when my traveling companion noted that Wednesday in Santa Fe was "all yours" and smiling through his mischevious depth of knowledge about my passions in life, informed me that the Georgia O'Keefe Museum was just around the corner from the hotel--my heart lept into my shoes and it was the first stop of the day in Santa Fe.

The building itself was Georgia, a soft vanilla brown adobe, with a simple line of trees outside. The special exhibition showing was a photo series of Georgia herself, many taken by her husband, Alfred Stieglitz.

After having spent previous hours at the adobe of of a very good friend of mine, powerfully spiritual in her own sense of womanhood, and her husband a local abstractionist staring at walls filled with symbolism I had rather a fixed idea that Georgia's works would focus on the obvious yoni and phallic icons that are commonly pointed out and spoken about in terms of representational painting. So while I was eager to make the journey into Georgia's world I did not anticipate being surprised or educated by the unexpected nor did I anticipate such a wonderful experience by being surprised and educated by the unexpected as did occur.

The paintings were arranged chronologically. Stepping into the white rooms, one after another, I felt my artist's soul touching another artist's soul long ago beating with the same passion for texture, color, and discovery of the world around her that I have recognized in myself as I age.

Had I walked this journey in my twenties I would have simply saw "pretty things". Now, in my late forties, I saw the fingertips of naivete turn into the wisdom of experience as a life passed time in a strange, wonderful, but constantly changing world.

The dance of a deeply orange-read feather-like plant across a white ridged shell. The background unimportant except for the color and simplicity of it all. The youthful playfulness with bringing the pulse of the rich life of a simple blue flower into reality by ignoring the intricate detail and simply fondling the arching, curving, essence of its beauty.

Gradually walking around the rooms I felt this woman's life unfold through each painting, each subject she choose, and the clarity with which she put it in front of the viewer. I felt as if I had looked through her eyes and asked the similar questions about what is and what could be. As Georgia aged so did her wild innocence. She painted tall buildings and physical constructions surreal in the way they cut through the natural world.

Then, in the last room, there she was, Georgia, in all her plain, weathered beauty, photographed by the man, and men, who loved the woman holding the brush and painting the world around them.

When my traveling companion peeked into the small movie clip on Georgia's life, I declined. After walking through her artistic world I felt almost protective of the bond I had felt while Georgia explored and painted her way through life, I felt something sweet, poignant, childlike, and personal. I couldn't explain it as well as I could feel it. It was there in the room with me as other people walked around the room milling about and talking quietly. I entered a space inside myself that was private. Georgia was learning what textures, colors, and lines mean to the world and sharing it so that you, and I can, as a person, extend the understanding that everything external to the human body also has a living soul. Everything has a life of its own. I did not want anyone else to interpret Georgia's work for me. I wanted to maintain the purity of that connection standing before her life's work.

Afterwards, in a slight rain, my companion and I took in coffee at a sidewalk cafe. As we chatted a local woman passed by and heard a political comment being expressed between us and turned to join in the conversation. This woman was delightful both in her passion and her sharing. But most importantly she steered us on a wonderful journey through the area Georgia chose, a bit north of Santa Fe, as home. "It is absolutely gorgeous. The desert at its best." she said. "You should go."

Unfortunately we were heading South at the time and my heart felt rather bereft that I couldn't complete my enchanted experience. I have never been overly fond of the desert. Having been raised in the foothills of the Sierras and having lived in deeply wooded forests I have always seen the mountains, the green grass, and the long wise limbs of the trees as my totems, so to speak. This sudden deep affection for the desert was new and I felt the urge to explore it more fully.

My mother on the other hand, painted in her later life, and most frequently chose old barns, hay fields, and the desert for her fingers and mind to mingle together on canvas. I can remember watching her as a child. She explained to me, her child born in the middle of the desert, of the beauty she missed in her captive life as the wife of an alcoholic that she had experienced years later living in the desert. "You have to look beyond what you think it is. It is wonderfully beautiful. It has sunsets that are all red and orange. The ground blooms with color in the spring and fall. It is like no other place I've ever seen." It made me think, early on, about keeping my mind open to the idea that my idea of the world might not be mated to the actuality of the world itself.

My mother never told me what to do. She understood how headstrong I was and how much I liked the hands-on experiential approach. I could do everything myself in my mind. So she simply shared with me her wonderful humanity and compassion for the world around her with hope, no doubt, that it would guide me as I blundered through my childhood into a more rich experience as an adult. A more rich experience than what she encountered living with my father.

Indeed, inspired by my mother's brief sketches of faces, I took up a love of drawing the human form. Drawing my feelings on paper and canvas I had an escape from the harsh reality in my childhood home. I learned I could imagine anything and create it on paper. I could draw my dreams. I could draw my happiness. I could reach beyond what was at the moment and create anything I needed on the flat surface in front of me. Of course, eventually, we all, all of us in that home, went our separate ways, as our family fell apart like many homes do when torched with alcoholism. Yet I never left behind my art. Instead I reached throughout my young adulthood for the most perfect form and then only later in life found the joy of surrealism.

Yesterday, as we drove through the beautiful stunning yellow gold desert valley where Georgia O'Keefe lived and painted in her ranch home, I connected my mother's love for painting and the desert with her, my mother's, own need to paint her life on a canvas. Finally I felt the beauty of the world she was living in.

Nearby, we turned up a small dirt road and journeyed into an old abandoned pueblo with an adobe church standing in the middle of crumbled ruins. It seemed surreal to see such well tended aged beauty standing aside the weathered-torn bricks of abandonment all encircled by a dusty the narrow, well traveled, road.

People, many of them, had been here before. Now and then. But here today it stood still. Nothing but the wind moved. There wasn't another soul to be seen. It was not a scene of discovery but a scene of what had been.

We turned around in the courtyard and traveled back down the road onto the highway and looked over the valley and the cliffs that Georgia no doubt saw many days of her life. I realized that my mother had lived in her mind the same beauty that Georgia had found in the vivaciousness of her beloved desert. Only my mother never had the same opportunity to present it to the world. Instead she just gifted it to her children.

I will always love my mother for many things but especially for giving me the best of her world.

I received word Thursday my mother passed on. She left both worlds behind on Tuesday evening. The real world had faded steadily over the last ten years as she slipped into dementia but I always secretly hoped the world of the desert lived on for her someplace in her mind. We headed home immediately and went through Ghost Ranch, north of Abiquiu, Georgia's valley asI have described above on our way.

My mother, the last of ten McClendon children born to Estelle and Daniel McClendon, an eighth generation Californian, finished life in the beautiful desert of Colorado at the age of eighty-six.

She is and always will be the most beautiful woman in my entire world. On canvas and off.

I love you Mom. Sleep well. The desert will blossom again in the Spring.

Comments :

2 comments to “Night 4 and Beyond: My Mother and Georgia O'Keefe”

mowdy5gs said...

For some reason this reminds me of a church. A big white church. A church in town that resides by a school. In this curch are leaders, elders if you will. I have a problem with one of them. As a group they are prominent in town. They have many weeling and dealings in town if you will. I dare say one in particular does some good. Howver I do not like even one of them,... So here it goes. Without nameing names as Jane prefers to keep it I will say during the time more then a few months back there was a rash of church robberys here in town, and in Loveland the Fort and Windsor I belive. As it turns out I heard a few in Greeley were perpitrated by request after the perp was initially caught by the GPD. See, as it turns out the curch elders as they are known are pervs. Looking at porn and such on church time while at church. If you know as I do what they were looking at you would understand why the robberys were in cahoots as it were. You can check with the church board if you have an incling what church I speak of. They were all dismissed witout much fanfare not long after. The whole group. Ask yourself why that would be? Ask yourself who are some of my biggest enemys and then ask yourself why I have been shunned. I would infer it is becaue the truths a BITCH as are you fellows. See, I might not look the part but I am far more rightouess then any of this town leaders can ever hope to be. So I will leave my enemys with a drawn out thought, a quote if you will.
"The path of the rightouess man is beset on all sides by the iniquitys of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men. Blessed is he who in the name of charity and good will shepards the weak through the valley of darkness for he is truly his brothers keeper and the finder of lost children. And I will strike down upon thee with great vengence and FURIOUS anger those who attempt to poison and destroy my brothers, and you will know, my name is the lord, when I lay my vengence upon thee."
Just another piece, some more insight into the coruption that I found lying within. You know who you are and funny enough I do to.
So any hoo.. Free reign was your offer.

Jane Paudaux said...

Thanks Mowdy.

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