Wednesday, March 17, 2010


In an odd, bookend sort of way, my creative life is populated with deceased painters. One of the first stories I ever wrote was about Anne Freeman's death, a friend of my then-boyfriend. Anne died before I ever even met Jim, and he still reeled from it then (and now, in quieter ways). She was a painter, although I have no idea how dedicated she was or could have been. She was only 17 when she died. It could be I've expanded her artistic inclinations for my own purposes.

Now I live in an artist studio surrounded by the art of Karen Laub-Novak. She passed away last year. I know her through her family (my friend Jana, who is her daughter, and now Michael, her husband and my landlord), through the works of other artists who wrote some profoundly touching remembrances, but largely, I know her through her art, the paintings, her studio, and the prints. I've yet to catalog the prints (still on my list), so my knowledge of those is incomplete. But her paintings, finished and unfinished, resonate with me -- art about struggle, striving, color, flight, movement (a sampling, not including many of my favorites, at And I also came to have an idea of her when I cleaned out the studio.

An artist, of course she liked lights -- light fixtures, lamps, lightbulbs -- this makes sense to me, the play of light being crucial. But the box full of hinges and locks remains a mystery, part of some project I don't know about. The handyman took the two sinks, closeout deals for renovation projects that didn't come to fruition, and many, many tools, saws, drills, sanders, etc. The books on art, the St. Christopher medal, the shelves of wooden plaques, hunks of clay, many different levels and rulers and boxes and boxes of nails, and those endless tweaks to the house. She was a painter, assuredly, a writer, a sculptor, but she was also a builder, a tinkerer, a collector of Might Be Useful Someday, a collector of possibilities. I relate to that, and stare at those wooden plaques, thinking, hmm. The blue plumbing metal tubing I wove into the Ugly Mobile 2.0.

Both Anne and Karen have, in different ways, served as guardian angels of art, people that I have re-created in my own ways to look out over me. For years and years, I wore Anne's rings (yes, given to me by that beau - as a morbid teenager, I found it romantic). Now I stare around a living room covered with paintings by Karen, and have acquired her old blank canvases to use for my own wranglings with paint. I find I'm not quite sure how to approach those canvases yet. I've never even used oil paints, her medium, and have little to no idea what I'm doing with my batch of acrylics. But I want to do something on those canvases, stretch something inside myself, prove that somehow I've absorbed something of the energy of the art on the walls, the paint splashed on the floor.

Because I never met either of Anne or Karen, part of my draw to them is perhaps really to the affection those left behind have for them. Perhaps if I can tell a story or draw a line or carry on, in some way, a legacy of creative spirit, I too will merit that kind of love. Of course, the grieving for lost love is perhaps the saddest, and most strongly idealized.

With the death of my own brother -- a real live person that I actually knew, but at the same time, did not know, because the severity of his autism locked him away from me, from my family, from ever even hearing him say my name -- I find I am also mourning not just his loss, but also the fictionalized version of a "normal" brother I wrote into my godawful book. I'm aware that this makes me sound a wee bit delusional, but rest assured, I still know fact from fiction.

Many people comment that art is all about creating something, that it is new and love and creation and sunshine and rainbows, cathartic and transformative. And it is. But it is also, for me anyway, with these shadow guardian angels that inhabit my creative world, about mourning a loss, accepting not just the creative force, but the destructive force as well. The time that we have together is so fraught and brief. And sometimes, we never really meet at all, as it was with me, and Anne and Karen. And my brother Tommy, the boy I have always missed.

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