The moment I started working on this painting the fog started to lift. I knew I needed to paint it, but it took me two and a half years to get started.
Adam’s death caused me to stop painting abruptly. I knew it would take time for the shock to wear off enough for me to start producing again, but I didn’t know at the time that I would wipe out my bike six weeks later. That accident resulted in two surgeries nine months apart, immobility for months at a time due to severe pain, and prescription painkiller addiction/recovery. I effectively lost a year and a half of my life and kicking such a massive quantity of narcotics was second only to losing Adam as the hardest thing I’ve ever done (though it pales in comparison). The minute I was physically well again we upped sticks, leaving our family home of almost seventeen years to start again in a new community. And then we gutted the old house we’d bought and began a complete reno. Even after all that, I didn’t understand why I was so deeply depressed that I rarely slept and when I did, woke up with panic and dread severe and physical enough that it threatened to engulf me. I was beyond desperate.
It was the empty space above the bed that kicked me into gear. I needed a painting and it needed to be specifically for me, for us. I had finally done a commission this year, but still hadn’t painted anything ‘for me’. And I knew I needed to do something that was about Adam. I needed something that would help me start to process the unrelenting pain.
The painting itself started as a clear idea in my mind, but ended up looking quite different from what I had envisaged. As I said to Linda, with whom I shared the process on a regular basis, “It’s experimental. And way too complicated and fractured”. Her response? “Complicated and fractured is how it’s been, isn’t it?” That’s why I love her: bags of insight, often delivered with a heaping helping of humour. Complicated and fractured doesn’t begin to describe it.
The actual process was unpredictable enough to warrant a blog post all its own. Let’s just say that it was a real struggle to attempt to create such a large painting using the alla prima method. I had to do it in sections, because there were time issues where I had to quit painting for days or even weeks at a time, and space issues as I have no studio yet. And it morphed as I went, because it’s really hard to paint that way and make it look like a single work. Just getting the position of the crow and raven right required much trial-and-error. And the way it started fracturing into pieces was out of my control. I didn’t really understand it but decided to trust the process. Here it is at the halfway point, when I found it necessary to take a six-week break:
By the time I took the break I knew where I was headed and it came more easily after that. And when I’d finished it I had to go back to the beginning and change bits of the right-hand side to better integrate with the left-hand side. (Don’t even ask why I went right-to-left when I was painting in slow-drying oil!) It was only then that I made the connection: the depression I’d been struggling with for so long had finally started lightening.
The raven is Adam, but I didn’t realize that in the beginning. He was as fascinated with corvids as I am, and once wrote the most amazing short story about a raven. My favourite line from the story is simply “It is I”, so that’s what I named the painting. As I was photographing it outside today (it was very gloomy out — I will probably have to re-photograph it), a raven actually appeared and wheeled around in the sky for a few minutes, making its throaty call. There were crows on the wires, chatting away at the same time. (They made me wonder: does the crow in the painting, looking over her shoulder at the raven, symbolize me?) I have stopped believing in signs and synchronicities, but maybe they don’t care what I believe. I’m still working it out — both the painting and the everything else. This painting is significant to me because it reminds me of Adam, and since I live in a world that is very changed from what came before, it doesn’t need to be any more than that.