This blog is about human beings interacting (for better or for worse) in a quest for intimacy and integrity in our relationships.
I got a new angle on that vocation over the last half year. It began when our writers’ group, the Taree Scribblers, teamed up with Taree Artists Inc and created a remarkable project. This is how it worked:
At our March meeting, the fifteen or so writers in Scribblers each brought along a piece of written work. The fifteen or so artists in the artists’ group came as well, and each brought a painting. We put all our names into a hat and swapped the writings and paintings around. Each artist ended up taking home a piece of written work on which they would base a new painting, and each of the writers took one of the paintings to inspire a new story or poem. Over the next month or two, the paintbrushes and keyboards came out as we all got to work.
If you do the maths, you can see that we ended up with about 60 pieces, or 30 pairs. We called the project Duets in Paint and Print. As you might imagine, it all took a great deal of coordination, but eventually each pair became part of a Duets exhibition. Half the works are currently on display at The Bean Bar (a popular Taree café), and the other half at the Harrington Library. There are plans afoot to include all the works in a book.
—Those are the basic facts. But the experience of it is something else again. The artwork is worthy, as are the pieces of writing, but the overall result is much more than the sum of those parts. People who’ve been to the exhibition say they found it moving to stand in front of two people’s works, sitting there side by side, linked in this unusual way.
To illustrate, I received a call a few days ago from someone who identified herself as Lynn. With suppressed excitement, she told me she was the artist who had done a painting based on a story that I’d written about a bower bird. She had just sold the painting, and wanted to share that the purchaser had told her she loved the painting and the story, and the way they danced together.
The works do indeed feel to me like they’re in a dance – the colourful paintings matched with the austere black and white of the stories and poems, both media trying to bring a common theme to life. There is an atmosphere of fragile partnerships, each tentatively reaching out to and contributing to the other.
The painting that I drew in the lottery was a mass of colour. I assume you’d call it abstract.
The prospect of writing from it was daunting. One of my fellow Scribblers took home a painting with three horses, and someone else one with a vase of roses. You could write a story about those things! But the elusive piece I ended up with—I liked its colours and that was about all I could say with certainty.
I understand writing. I know what I like and what I don’t; I feel strongly what’s honest and what’s contrived. But art?! I’m right out of my comfort zone. And now I was to write a piece inspired by a living, breathing human being who would no doubt read my story, who would take my response personally. I wanted to do well by that artist.
So I hung the painting on the wall just over my monitor, and pleaded with it to talk to me. For several days we just co-existed. I let it get used to me while I waited for it to start communicating.
Eventually it did. The mass of colour became a landscape, a deeply forested spot, the kind of place you might have a tryst. I became enamoured of the contrasts, sun and shadow. There was a glowing red spot that clearly had a big story to tell.
The partnership was taking form.
Here is the story I told about the painting.
There is this place I go to.
It’s not so easy to get there any more. I no longer pack along a picnic lunch or take a rug to sit on. It’s all I can manage to go through the gate, trundle up the slope and stand a few moments in the little glen.
Today I pause for breath where the hill rises gently before me. Behind the trees I can glimpse the spot where Lisbeth’s fierce spirit lies, and where Frank’s heart beats most strongly.
In the glade, just out of my sight, is the overgrown cross where we buried Lisbeth all those years ago. She was just three months old; she laughed and played and sang, and one morning did not wake up. Say what you will about a mother’s love—I always thought it was harder on Frank than on me. He never failed to blow his nose quietly into his handkerchief when we sat there.
There were a couple of times we thought we might sell up and move to town, especially in the last few years when his strength was fading. But we were too used to the familiar radiance and shadows of our homestead, and Lisbeth’s grave as much as anything held us here.
Light and shadow; sun and shade. The contrasts push at me, teasing my eye and my memory.
—Sunlight catching the gold of the maidenhair tree; deep shade under the willow where Scout, our old collie, would wait for us.
—Frank’s big wrinkled hands; Lisbeth’s tiny smooth face.
—His long, purposeful life; her little ephemeral one.
This place reminds me that you cannot have love without loss, or loss without there having been love.
Today I’ll visit it again, perhaps for the last time.
Rick, who you’ll have pegged by now as a hopeless romantic, stood in front of the painting that inspired my second story, with tears in his eyes. Then he bought the painting. Or more accurately, he bought the duet.
They will hang together in the Shedders’ gallery.