Hi there. Time for some real talk. It hasn't all been sunshine and rainbows in recent times. Here are 5 things that have been truly difficult, chaotic and have definitely wreaked havoc, but despite the obvious struggles I always look for the positives in a situation, even if it takes time to see them. Where are those silver linings, the glimmers of hope that help make it all make sense? They are there, beneath the surface of the obvious, glimmering with a "See, if this didn't happen it wouldn't have pushed you forward in this whole new way." I hear you universe, with your life lessons of divine timing. Let's remember the expression "growing pains" is pretty real, and growing, shifting and readjusting can all be a painful part of our beautiful growth and evolution.
Breathe and hold on, let's reflect a bit.
1) The Global Pandemic. Holy hell, this was a mind fuck of collective and personal trauma that we are not quite out of despite the past 18 months of struggle.
I remember the moment clearly, being advised to cancel the 50th Anniversary Gala, the huge benefit planned for March 21, 2020. The Friday the 13th we decided to close the Art Center for what we all thought would be two weeks. My advice for all staff, students, and teachers in that moment was to take home art supplies and that I would see them on the other side in 2 weeks. Ha, we all know that's not what happened as the state of emergency continued, hospitals got flooded, and the death toll just kept rising. People around us got sick, watching the mourning for lost loved ones on Facebook was an everyday occurrence. (It hit home for me in April 2020 when the first 2 people in my circle died of Covid, a husband and wife, at least they got to be in the same hospital room when it happened.) About 3 months later we started to return to the Art Center, with masks, sanitizer, and staggering staff. We were able to reopen the gallery by appointment only just before the close of the fiscal year in June 2020. We lost income on fundraisers, cancelled classes, and had very little revenue. Slowly and surely we discovered how we were going to navigate, trying new things, adapting, and desperately trying anything we could think of to raise money and continue programs.
Art heals. We know this, and this was not a time to cut art out of peoples lives, but a time to double down with programming and intentions to make art accessible to everyone.
Silver Linings - So many really, despite this extreme stress. Right before everything was forced to close, I was operating under immense stress and was in a high octane knot. I was so stressed with work, hosting a gala, trying to figure out a capital campaign, and my daughter was supposed to have 2 surgeries in March/April 2020. It was a lot, too much to take on with over-scheduled madness, and then everything was canceled, literally everything was canceled and shut down and self care and art making became a priority. Right before we shut down the Art Center a long time board member, current gallery advisory member, fabulous painter and educator Barry Mason said "I think everyone should go home and water their garden." Those words stuck with me as we puttered with home projects and watered our souls despite the fear and stress of what was happening in the world.
I am grateful my immediate family is well. I am grateful with all the time at home and not being able to go anywhere, I started really painting and creating A LOT, even had date nights with myself in my painting studio and really had time to reconnect with myself, and my art practice. I am grateful for funding programs like the PPP loan that made it possible for the Art Center to continue and the big hearted donors who jumped in to save local non-profits by supporting operations, payroll. One incredible donor gave us an angel gift to cover payroll for 6 weeks before we knew if we would receive PPP. We had a small handful of 5 digit donations and this truly saved us in a time of great strife.
We took risks. I personally taught art via zoom, and from April 2020-2021 I personally conducted over 50 virtual studio visits inviting the public in, we held virtual art openings, virtual art education, and even a virtual gala in fall 2020 as we desperately tried to find ways to raise money. I learned a lot as an Executive Director of a multi-purpose nonprofit Art Center, and seeing it through from where we were to where we are now is a huge accomplishment. I also started actively teaching again, using that Masters from Tufts and SMFA Boston, teaching children, adults, one off workshops, whatever I could do to try and keep income coming to a small nonprofit, and being on salary, no need to pay an independent teaching artist. Tough times call for finding everything you have inside of you, trying it all to find reasonable solutions to the dilemma at hand, and expanding our human capacity in different ways. Stretch, Learn, Grow. Thank You incredible supportive board! I know we are still rebuilding and restrengthening, but it will all take time as we move forward in the best way possible, with grace, kindness, and lots and lots of ART. I also collaborated with Christina Massey and the USPS Art Project and hosted the first physical USPS Art Project Exhibition in August 2020. It was hard, the logistics were tricky, but it was awesome and over 350 artists participated and there were record art sales for Pelham Art Center, and yes, I got several pieces for my personal collection. Taking the leap to make this a physical exhibition at the Pelham Art Center also inspired venues across the country to also exhibit the USPS Art Project, including the Ely Center for Contemporary Art, the Art Gym in Denver, Sunset Studios, InLiquid in Philadelphia and all other great places.
I also got to spend a lot of time with my family, my daughter and have a new appreciation for the intimate gatherings. I am also really really comfortable running public programs on zoom, something I was intimidated to do in Feb 2020 and now I am a full blown professional there. Thankful to be alive and writing to you today.
2) 20th Anniversary of 9/11. Damn, + Exhibition of Gesture with Manju Shandler. I knew 2020 was going to be hard in 2019. I knew this marker in history was coming and it was going to be hard. Manju Shandler had approached the Pelham Art Center in Sept 2019 to host Gesture in honor of the 20th Anniversary for 9/11. I brought the idea to the Gallery Advisory Board and everyone said yes.
Silver Linings - After 20 years of avoiding my feelings, memories and experiences about 9/11, I finally faced them, and can start to heal. I even made a speech in the Pelham Art Center courtyard, and sent it to the Pelham Examiner to be published. It wasn't easy, and I cried, a lot when writing it. So if you want to know more about my personal experience walking out of the ash on September, 11, 2001 you can read all about that here.
3) Health - Eye Issues, passing them on to my daughter, fear & guilt and facing surgery, etc.
This is a rough one, and I don't have space or time to go into the full story of it all. But, let's just start with I have had a lifetime of eye issues. It was first noticed when I was three years old, dislocated lenses. Doctors didn't quite understand the cause or diagnosis. One of my first memories is getting blood drawn with a huge needle at age 3 and my mom asking if I wanted to be on her lap, and me being fearless and following directions said no and sat alone, but cowered when the needle went in. "If you move they have to put the needle in again." I held steady as I watched it go in and the blood draw. I was told I had Marfans Syndrome, from then until the diagnosis corrected when I was around 30 years old. If your're not familiar, its a pretty scary syndrome, your aorta might explode and you might die are the basics. So throughout childhood there was this, well you might die, you are legally blind, you're an abnormal mutation etc. etc. was driven into me mentally. Sounds fun right?
Let's just say avoidance and burying unwanted information became routine. At 19 there were eye complications and I had a detached retina in my left eye, that actually had tried to heal itself, so who knows how long it was there, and that led to many complex surgeries. I remember the first surgery was supposed to be about an hour, and it was 4 hours long, I remember seeing the bright surgery lights and feeling the surgeons move things around in my eye when the pain meds started to wear off, and hearing them say "Wow, look at all the fibers in there." I moved my hand enough for them to realize I was waking up and then they put me back under. I also remember the anesthesiologist being really cute. That was the first of many surgeries, gas bubbles, silicon bands around the eye, having the eye socket being filled with silicone oil to hold it all together. As rock and roll minded young woman being told to stay still, it was hard. This kind of thing is hard for anyone.
For a while there was a surgery a month until they got things to stabilize, that was Winter and Spring 2002. There's more but that's enough for now. As an artist, being 19 in art school, this was all intense, to say the least. I remember a drawing teacher saying, "Well eyes heal fast, don't worry, you will be fine." but this saga of surgeries was most recently completed in 2014 or so, and that's about a dozen years of dealing with eye trauma. Mostly on one eye, but a bit on the "good" eye. Let's just say there is a reason I don't make eyes the same on a portrait ever, and yes I am self conscious about it. I can't see the cool VR art pieces, or take part in the 3D glasses. That's just not going to work for me. But my understandings of abstract perception and visualization are excellent, no doubt.
My greatest fear of becoming a mother was passing on my complex optical issues. My greatest fear came true when my daughter was diagnosed with dislocated lenses when she was 2. At first we were going to the same hospital I had been to, and the recommendation was to jump into surgery. All of this was intensely painful emotionally. We had had it lined up to happen in March and April of 2020 and thank god the pandemic made us hold off and rethink the decision.
Silver Linings - First off, my daughter sees great right now for her age and development (with glasses and there was a long time patching), thank you Universe, God, Spirits! We also switched specialists. Although I personally have been through some intense eye trauma and many many surgeries, I am okay. I am going to be fine. (Yes, I also had a plan of being a blind sculptor if all the shit hit the fan so to speak). I still create art, I still see, drive, and operate a normal life. Yes, I have managed to have a very professional career in the arts, as a curator, and creative despite an epic pool of fear. Yes, I think eye imagery, (Hello: orbs, circles, spheres, circles in circles, nerves, fibers, bodily shapes, thinking about cells, etc. etc.) has informed my art practice. Let's just say, I have an awesome appreciation of visuals, and visual metaphors, and I feel I know circles on deep levels, from unity, wholeness, to void, that abyss can be epic. (Epic: Any Faith No More Fans out there?)
When I was younger and going through some of this, I also was a part of the Blind Artist Society for a hot minute, got to exhibit my work at the Albany Art and Cultural Institute, and met Jon Beer who was helping to organize those exhibitions and put that collective together in collaboration with his father. Jon is now a phenomenal contractor with a specialization in old houses, with art, aesthetics and craftsmanship at the top of the priority list. (He also has an MFA in painting and is awesome, again.) He is in Newburgh, NY and a totally awesome human. Seriously go look up Jon Beer Contracting, follow them on the internet, it's awesome. When I am ready to redo my dream-house, I will call him up.
4) Natural Disasters - Fear of Nature, seeing damage, recent storms, past storms, natural life storms, climate change is real.
When I was young I had a recurring nightmare of a brown river tearing through the pine woods in my backyard. I didn't have an average backyard, I had acres of rolling landscaped gardens, pine woods and trails on a family estate that butted up against a state park that was a few hundred acres. Where this brown river was doesn't make sense, water doesn't run that way. In the dream the cap to a purple marker was being carried away and the marker got ruined. This was the dream nightmare, of art supplies being carried away and nothing making sense with an unexpected nonsensical river of mud tearing through the family property. It's deep and metaphorical, and perhaps about a fear of losing voice as an artist, despite being young and not being able to control things out of your control.
I remember the big snow storm of 96, and hearing about family in Maine that had lost power for a week in the dead of a Maine Winter. I remember some ice storms, and trying to drive to high school after a hurricane despite the county being in a state of emergency, and seeing huge trees and down and lakes taking over roads, and what was usually a 30 minute drive was over 2 hours.
That was all in the before. Before my awareness of the real threats of natural disasters, before tsunamis were real, before hurricane Katrina tore a city apart and showed the US the true social and economic disparity when a natural disaster strikes.
I was living in Brooklyn when hurricane Irene rampaged Vermont, and tore huge stretched of road away, and a piece of public art I had painted and the entire business of Blackies Deli in Bridgewater, VT was washed away completely. That was before Sandy, and after I had seen a tornado touch down in Brooklyn and the sky turn green as the windows rattled. Sandy had boats in the road all over the east coast and had boats in the road and plenty of devastation to my home town in Piermont, NY.
Most recently of course was just this past September with hurricane Ida. Seeing the devastation was heart breaking and truly frightening as roads turned into rivers and parkways into lakes. A friend of mine lost long time family friends as they were washed away and drown in a flash flood off the Hutchinson River Parkway. Thankfully the Pelham Art Center held strong, with only slight water coming in from under the doors. Our neighbors in the basement apartment, a family of 6, lost everything they owned and were emergency evacuated. The force of nature can be violent and frightening.
My personal home was alright, except ground water came up from the basement and one room with wall to wall carpet needed the floor replaced. Difficult and an unexpected expense certainly, but all in all we were all fine.
Silver Linings - My immediate family is all alright. We definitely learned some things about home ownership, and saw the devastation around us. From Ida, the good thing that came out of it for me, is we had to take everything out of a room, get a fresh tile floor put in, and have a new more usable room in our home. What was a rarely used guest room with furniture I wasn't crazy about is now my home studio! No more squeezing art making into the living room or home office, or trying to keep in the garage or the shed. Now CharVoz Studio has a proper place to store and create new work, inside the home and re-prioritized. Yes, everything is a bit up off the floor in case another super storm comes, but the new space feels great and I really look forward to sharing it all with you. So now I have a great space to continue the Silver Lining series that started in 2020, and that creative project will continues.
5) Death in General, losing loved ones.
This is never easy. Losing someone you love resonates as one of the most difficult things we experience and it always reminds us of our humanity and to hug our loved ones a little bit closer. Cherish the moments and memories you do have, and try not to get lost is the immediate chasm of absence that is created with a loss. Feel the emotions and know that you come out of the immediate sadness, eventually, and in good time. Someone at my father's funeral was about to say, "things get better" and then stopped themselves to say "Things get different, it all just gets different." Those words have comforted me over the years.
When I was seven, my best friend in school Elizabeth drowned at a swim birthday party. I remember someone shouting get out of the pool there is a dead person in it. I din't have my glasses on so everything was fuzzy. But I remember the grown ups screaming as my friend Elizabeth was pulled from the pool and white foam was wiped from her mouth with someones beach towel, among upset grown ups and attempts to resuscitate. The children were all put into the house and parents were called to come pick up up. There was a clown trying to entertain and distract us, as I tried to get glimpses outside through the shut blinds.
It was the first death experience for one of my contemporaries, not grandma, or the dog, that happened a few months prior. I remember the funeral and our music teacher sitting in the row behind us, and the little white coffin being carried down the isle. The absence in the classroom in the month or two left of the school year was brutal. She was my friend, we used to draw and read poetry about colors together, and she was gone.
I am not about to write about every death I experienced, but by age 21 I had been to 7 funerals, and as I near 40, I have definitely lost count.
My father walking to the kitchen and dying mid dinner party was pretty dramatic. The loss of a parent is brutal. The sudden loss of a parent is difficult. That we were all back at the table within 2 hours serving the pie he had helped me make the day before and opening that one bottle of scotch that was always too good to open. It was all surreal, and 13 years later I can still bring myself right back to those moments, the days leading up it, the days that followed, and truly one of the most beautiful funerals I have ever experienced. But more on all of that another day.
An ex dying is strange. No one told me when it happened, I found out much later in a strange way that the first lover I lived with died of a massive heart attack at 34. He was dead by the time he hit the ground. It's all sad, and with this one, I was really mad at him for not telling me he was dead, as I had tried calling a few time over the years and could have used his advice on my recent home improvements.
Most recently my sister in law and best friend (two sisters) lost their baby sister who was 30 and died in her sleep. It was sudden, unexpected,and the pain is still fresh. The services last week were cathartic reminders of love, and that the love we have for someone and the love between continues.
Silver Linings, this one is harder. Finding the silver lining out of loss is not an easy thing to see. It does take time. The awareness of emptiness right after a loss can be devastating. A parent, a lover, a child, a sibling, a friend, someone you loved, it's all has deep emotional effects. There is a void and it can be filled with memories, words never said, regrets, anger, frustrations, love and release. All of these intensities are in the void as it fills, heals, and offers a rebirth of new possibilities. Spirituality, growth, release, and all the religious philosophies have been working on these concepts since human existence, and the cycle of time continues. We are still here, reading this or living in our everyday, things go on, time heals and out of deep reflection new depth is given to our everyday experiences and being called to action, weather it's to love a bit more, find more joy, or to work towards changing the world and the current lives of those we love for the better. Out of great suffering comes an enlightenment to truly experience love and joy, the same thing those gone would have wanted for us even if it wasn't always visible. So with the great dark comes the great light.
"Your absence has gone through me
Like thread through a needle
Everything I do is stitched with it's color."
- W.S. Merwin, Seperation
The above poem I first saw on the MTA NYC subway in 1999 as part of the poetry in motion campaign. My boyfriend at the time took the printed sign from the train and gave it to me as a gift. It hung on my bedroom wall for years.
I started the silver lining series of drawings in 2020, and will be continuing the series for the coming years. So far I complete 3 per year so at the close of 2021 there are 6.
The abstractions of swirling chaos, accidents and subconscious are then further defined with the use of silver leaf, just like the silver linings on the storm clouds of life. These are then further defined with detailed line work in color and black ink, connecting the pathways of growth and thoughts. See more here -