See art in a
In the early
hours, I met a hooded figure, it was death and he said: "I have
not come for you."
Death touched my life when three people
near me died in the same year.
One of them was my lover's sister. I knew she had been ill for some
time with breast cancer. She had a husband and four children,
the oldest being eleven or twelve years old. I was told that she
was ready to die, and that she would like to meet with me.
The day was gray with wet clouds. The
bedroom was dark (light hurt her eyes) and she seemed recessed
in the bed far away among the pillows. Feeling uncomfortable, I sat on
the bed and waited on her need. I
couldnít hold her hand because she felt too much pain when she
was touched. She told me that though she didnít know me well my
art was wonderful. She described the painting Denouement--the light in it and the beauty of the lovers in it. She told me,
"No matter how difficult life can be for you, you must always
She died two days later.
Denouement, 1987, oil on
Young Man in Green, 1983,
oil on linen, 34x40"
The other person was a friend from New
York. Peter posed for several drawings and this painting with an
enthusiasm and intensity I had never experienced before. He was my best friendís
lover and he became her husband. I once went up to their brownstone
apartment, and I was buzzed in; the apartment door was open though
no one was there to greet me. I heard giggling and laughter
coming inexplicably from a closet. They were in the closet,
naked and enclosed in one oversized white dress shirt. He died a
gruesome death from his battle with a brain aneurysm. He
struggled with three or four weeks of seizures until the swell
of the blood destroyed his brain, and ended his life.
Rothko, No. 14
The last of the three, and the closest
to me, was my grandmother. She was a no nonsense, stylish,
hard-working Canadian turned American; and she loved paintings.
Her library was filled with art books about Delacroix,
Michelangelo, da Vinci, etc. But, she did not love all kinds of
paintings. When I was in my teens I remember her ranting about a Rothko spread in a national magazine. She said, "This stuff is
just like when the house painter applies different colored test
squares. And he asks, "Lady, which one do you want?""
Her comment was accompanied by a confident, wickedly humorous
Later, when I was making my first trip
to Italy, she asked me to place a rose on Michelangeloís tomb.
These were wonderful people. When they died, I felt nothing.
I was afraid that there is
something terribly wrong with me, and, if I did not awaken my
mourning, I might be living the rest of my life in a state of
gray mediocrity, never honoring the passionate and loving people
that touched me while they lived. I
decided I would do art therapy, which meant drawing themes about
I began my first query with Louis, a model
that posed for a life-drawing class I taught. During a
break I pulled him aside and explained that I wanted to draw a
series on death and mourning and would he pose for one of the
pieces. He looked visibly shaken and
seemed to back away from me. He told me that he could not answer
me now but he would think about it.
A week later, we sat down for coffee
during the break . He told me that he would model for me, but he
needed to tell me something relevant to the project. He said,
"Five years ago to this week, my father shot my mother and then
he shot himself."
Louis came to model and I began my art
Rend (Louis), 1992,
charcoal of Rives BFK, 24x30"
Aside from Louis, the project consisted
of 14 or 15 other models. All the models brought to the project
their particular experiences of loss, and contributed their
vulnerability, insights, and ability for bodily
expression. By the time the series was finished I had gone
through my mourning as assuredly as the people of the
Mediterranean rend the space surrounding their dead.
Laid Away, 1992-98,
charcoal on Rives BFK, 18x30"
A postscript to this story is that
several months later a dear friend called me long distance and
told me that his father had died, and he went on to discuss some
other issues. Instead of feeling uncomfortable, I felt at
peace, relaxed, and empathetic enough to sit back and listen
very carefully and even hear what was said between the words as
my friend talked to me about life.
New York, January 2007
Other related art presentations you might enjoy.
copyright 2012 by Michael Newberry