Every now and then a painting seems to arrive from nowhere. It comes quickly, and seems to paint itself. It is unlike any I’ve painted before. It resists any changes and seems to say, “Back away from the painting!” when I approach. This occurs whenever my art moves in a new direction. So I wait. I put it aside until I can understand how it relates to my prior work and what it is trying to say.
The painting below is a case in point. It stayed in my studio for weeks, and I analyzed it regularly. I saw a bold figure who reminded me of the ancient Kokopelli deity from Southwestern tribes. Prominent among the Hopi and Zuni pueblos, the Kokopelli governed both fertility and trade—bringing children, but also stories and news from other communities to help link people. My painting has mountains that look like those surrounding Santa Fe, a place I love. The figure is rooted and rises into the sky, and its outstretched arm folds into the hills. A feather hovers above, and the land below bubbles with life and energy. The painting puzzled me. I almost never paint figures. Nor have I painted anything to suggest Southwestern folklore. And yet, here was a stylized figure who seemed to share something— to offer a gift or pass along a legacy.
I thought about inheritances. I reflected on my home, which is full of antique furniture and objects made by the hands of others. They hold memories and stories of those who came before. In my attempts to declutter, I am careful to guard certain pictures, paintings, photos, and papers which my sons may want from their childhood home. Memorabilia from our family tree will become part of their lives. In recent weeks, I have been impacted by news coverage on immigration. I value the role immigrants played in my own life, and in all the ways they’ve shaped America’s history. We humans are connected across cultures in so many ways. Legacies abound….
Legacies from those who came before, and who continue to inform our lives. Finally I understood what this painting was trying to capture. I found early signs in my sketchbook journals and mark making, so it did not arrive “out of the blue.” I named it Gifts Of Our Ancestors. Soon after I titled it and put the image on my website, I sold it to another artist. She said it resonated deeply for her since she owned many pieces of art handed down through the generations of her family.
I treasure the lesson of this painting: to paint from the soul, always. The more I put distractions aside and tap into my deepest emotions and insights—whether these are conscious or not—the more authentic my art becomes.
As I write this, I feel ancestors smile.
Gifts Of Our Ancestors (40″ x 30″ Oil, cold wax, pastels on wood panel, SOLD)