Rib Cages, Rivers and Silver Linings
I’ve recently grown conscious of the beauty and tenderness of the rib cage, its true ribs and false ribs, the delicate breastbones, compressed bars of bone strung together to protect our hearts and lungs. I’ve broken two ribs recently, just over the heart – simple fractures with complex results. The injury involved a metal ladder and a 3 story painting.
The ribs and terrors in the whale,
Arched over me a dismal gloom,
While all God’s sun-lit waves rolled by,
And left me deepening down to doom.
My long history of injuries usually occurs when creativity is roaring like a mighty river, and rules over absolutely everything else: reason, food, plans, love. And safety. This recent creative river was in full force – 9 canvases in process at once, totaling 144 feet, when the injury occurred. It was very difficult to have to come to a sudden STOP.
Normally I spend several days of contemplation and adjustments as a painting draws close to completion. This time, benched, I sat in the studio gazing, for 8 full weeks. This harnessed, slow, long looking, without being able to leap up and change something, revealed itself as a brilliant silver lining. I was mostly looking at canvases but also at cardinals and goldfinch turning their spring yellow, at winds and rains and daffodils, at the cat sleeping, the clouds racing by, then back to the canvases with this gorgeous generous amount of uncompressed time. Quietly, some shifts began to happen, without the ability to respond to urgency. An extreme sensitivity opened up to every tiny signal of something being out of balance, and I could see how the image could be even slightly improved by a delicate mark or wash. Friends and family dropped by and rotated the paintings for me on the studio wall, so I could look at each one deeply, see where the work came from, and where was it going. After a few weeks I could lift a can of spray paint and some crayons for a short spurts, and the paintings came into balance gently, tenderly, quietly.
In the studio, I crossed out the last word of Melville’s poem’s stanza, “doom”, and changed it to “bloom”.
Each of these works, completed in this contemplative time, contain a loving visual reference to a broken rib:
Instinct – Transcendent Instinct
Sappho’s Mountain Hycianths