Last Wednesday's vicious mob attack on the Capitol left me with great heartache. On Thursday I was drawn into my studio. I had no idea whatsoever what I would paint; all I knew is that I wanted to produce something that would comfort my aching heart.
The square canvas sat on the floor on top of a heavy tarp. I set my basket of paint tubes next to the canvas and kneeled down (I do much of my painting on the floor.) Without thinking too much, I picked up a large tube of yellow. I squirted it onto the palette. I picked up a small tub of white paint and scooped a blob onto the palette next to the yellow. The next thing I knew I was using my palette knife to "butter" the canvas with thick strokes of paint. It felt so reassuring to feel the soft waves under the palette knife. At one point I felt like I was frosting a cake.
What emerged was a bright painting with the glowing yellows of egg yolks.
I photographed the painting and was disappointed that the photo didn't glow the way the canvas does. But I decided to post it on Instagram anyway.
Before I knew it, my good friend Nancy Dunlop, a wonderful writer, texted me to say that she had been swept up by the painting. She saw horses galloping across the canvas! Soon, she had written something mythic and remarkably special. I was delighted when I asked her if I could include it here in the blog and she said yes!
"And the goddess gave birth to a giant golden egg, and the egg crackled and fissured open, and the yolk and albumen spilleth’ and from that source of all that is good and fierce and beautiful, sprang horses, full grown, and they reared up on two legs, shook their massive manes and galloped in many herds, in all directions, their hooves stirring up the remainder of the yolk, and the Goddess said to the horses, Go and teach other animals to run and be beautiful, and when the tribes of humans saw these horses of the Goddess storming toward them, they knew the power they held, and the beauty. They knew these horses were the messengers of the Divine, and they took up their tools and their paints and made artwork on the inner walls of caves, and the caves became eggs housing these paintings, incubating them, and then cracking open to release even more horses in herds encompassing the globe. And that is how the first Art came to be."
See what I mean? It's so amazing when one work of art sparks another! But it didn't end there. I was speaking to another friend, Renee Pettit, who is also a terrific writer, about what Nancy had written. I shared the passage with Renee, and sometime later on Friday, she texted me to say that the painting, and Nancy's words, had combined to inspire a journal entry.
My oh my was I happy. Here was my painting offering comfort to my friends, and also moving them to create beautiful cascades of words.
Here is Renee's journal entry:
“The Yellow Wallpaper, Reimagined:
An Exploration of Feeling Inspired by Claud’s Painting”
"There, in the yellow cottage, peeling paint reveals the freshness and aliveness of layers of life underneath; reveals the harmony of old lives and new; of how we are never very far from who we were. Even if we no longer are that exact version of ourselves, there is a steadiness, a line connecting us to each preceding day of our lives, back to the very beginning, back to our first memory. We are paint-by-number, in a sense.
There is that yellow cottage, bleeding out old, tired life and breathing in and brimming with new. That cottage that can feel like a crowded house or a lonely universe, a sanctuary or a cozy den. “There is freedom within, there is freedom without...”
Oh, those pure whites, that youthfulness that yellows with age and rich wisdom. Purity becomes linen becomes topaz and caramel. We move through this life one day and one page at a time, filling one room, emptying another, shifting, shaping, ever-becoming.
An egg: the symbol of purity and perfection, cracked open to let that inner life run free, seeping under the doorways of that sometimes empty, sometimes crowded house. It is ski jumps and rivers, crème caramel and baked Alaska. It is that butterscotch sundae with Dad; those lemon bars with Mom, that Mick makes these days; stained linens; a wedding dress. It is freedom and self-confinement, yearning for a past that never was and praying for a future we can’t quite see.
That yellow cottage is my promise to myself to honor every day of this life and give thanks for the privilege of seasoned perspective, grey hairs, chest pains that wound up to be nothing. That yellow cottage makes my eyes well with tears, praying for many more days, many more darkening shades and splinters of light. I am thankful for the sunlight, the moonlight, the spring and summer, the fall and impending winter. I bow down in hope that I will be granted many more days, many more pages, many more shades and colors and rooms. Thank you, stars and creatures, friends and loves. Thank you for all of it. "
And thank you Renee, and you Nancy, for your splendid words.
Nancy Dunlop, who lives in upstate New York, received her Ph.D. from the University at Albany, SUNY, where she taught for 20 years. She is curator of Wren, an international e-forum for women in the arts. A finalist in the AWP Intro Journal Awards, she has been published in many print and digital journals.
Renee Pettit, who received her M.A. in English from the University at Albany, SUNY, is an editor for an academic research organization. She is also a fiction writer. She is currently searching for a literary agent for her first novel and working on short stories. She lives with her husband in upstate New York.