No Title (Flawed Yellow I), 2003, 13” x 13”, charcoal & gouache on paper
My PSA test recently came back slightly elevated, my cholesterol levels are borderline high, and I take medication to control my blood pressure. These are minor, manageable things, but they are predictive: in the end, there is no getting around our in-built flaws.
For many years, I made art I came to think of as “emblems of identity” – images derived from self-portraiture pared down to the point of becoming simplified rounded shapes. The art functions as symbols not of myself but of a self, character and meaning dependent on the formal qualities of the drawing or painting (for an in-depth look, visit Our Infinite Selves).
I once made a series of such drawings that allude to our imperfect bodies – ready to give out anytime, not always with notice.
I made the first of such works within days of my step-father dying unexpectedly in 2003. At the time he had seemed vivacious and fit, younger than his 61 years. We had no reason to suspect him of falling victim to a massive heart attack (dramatically: flying his private plane solo, he collapsed, no longer alive by the time the plane crashed into flames).
It was a shock to all of us.
I turned to art.
I made a series of nine small drawings (three shown here) informed by two things: the idea of cerulean blue sky as an infinite spiritual domain, and the Mesoamerican rite in which otherwise perfectly rounded ceramic burial containers were intentionally pierced – perhaps to allow the spirit of the deceased to escape, perhaps to symbolize the uselessness of the broken vessel. In my drawings, I had both meanings in mind: a broken body, and an opening for release.
I think of these drawings as spirit drawings, as signifying a kind of faith and hope despite the ostensible finality of death. (It is not insignificant that in these works erasure marks from what began as drawings of heads remain visible – like pentimenti from previous physical selves.)
I subsequently made more drawings (such as No Title (Flawed Yellow I)) exploring the idea of imperfection and vulnerability: bodies with soft spots ready to give, us poised to deflate like spent balloons.
I do not view these drawings from nearly two decades ago as despairing. I look at them now as beautiful and true – as expressing acceptance of what is even as in their ethereal corpus they resist terminality, conveying a notion of something more… something of soul beyond our passing.
My body cracking and waning with age before vanishing entirely, I think of these drawings, and I feel happy.