to contact: sukiecurtis@gmail.com

Alla Prima

What Goes Around . . .

Kintsugi

I had to look back at my previous posts to remember when I wrote about the broken pot mended with gold and the Japanese aesthetic and artistic practice called Kintsugi, or “golden joinery.” It was, appropriately, on New Year’s Day.

I say “appropriately on New Year’s Day” because the challenge and the calling that I perceived in that image and articulated in that post are still with me, like a guiding metaphor for my whole year. Or at least until I have “used it up,” having done what I needed to do.

That could take me less than a year, or it could be the continuing work of a lifetime–who’s to say? The answer will only become clear in time, and in living into and trusting this guiding metaphor.

Here’s what I wrote about it back on January 1:

“It seems to be calling me to a more complete and more compassionate embrace of my whole life thus far–to take time to look back with clearer eyes, perhaps especially to look again at the broken places, the relationships and experiences still kept in the shadows, tinged with shame or grief, and to bring them out into fresh air and light.

Some day soon I hope to stand more gracefully as my whole self, holding my life in my hands as a beautifully broken and mended pot, trusting in the value and the gift in all of it.”

Fresh air and light.

Fresh air and light are abundant on this February day, the day after the blizzard that fizzled (the low pressure center went far south of its predicted path, radically reducing snowfall totals where we live, though others were not so fortunate).

And little by little (and some days, not-so-little by not-so-little!) I have been dragging things out from the basement shadows and into the light and air where compassion and forgiveness and self-acceptance become possible.

Along the way, thoughts and words expressed by others find their way to me and cheer me along, increasing my hope and courage. It’s lovely how that happens, isn’t it?

As I write more fully about this journey in days and weeks ahead, I will do so in hope that what I write might in turn help someone else along their way.

 

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The Power of Orange

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Mandarins, Stems and Leaves, ©Sukie Curtis 2015

Deep in the grip of winter, with deep snow everywhere you look outside, it’s nice to get some color indoors. Fruit, flowers, fabric, paint–anything to brighten things up!

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Saints in the Snow

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“St. Francis is head and shoulders above the Buddha,” I remarked wryly the other day–between last week’s blizzard named “Juno” and this week’s latest snow.

Bekah heard me from the other room and said something like, “Oh, I don’t know about that.”

I was actually making a statement of fact from physical observation, not one of opinion about the relative merits to humanity of St. Francis and the Buddha.

“Look out the window, and you’ll see what I mean,” I said.

At that time, before the latest nine-inches-plus-drifting that arrived two days ago, our backyard statue of St. Francis still showed his head and shoulders above the accumulating snow. As often happens, his shoulders were draped in a thickening white mantle, and he cradled in his hands what looked like ever-growing snowbirds.

But now (see the above photo), far less of Francis’ shoulders are visible.

“And the Buddha?” you may be wondering. Where’s the Buddha?

The Buddha’s head is that small peak to the left and behind Francis, close to the center (left-right-wise) of the photo’s upper section. I like knowing that underneath it all, the Buddha is still sitting, smiling slightly, unperturbed.

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Counting Birds

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Winter Woods, oil on canvas, ©Sukie Curtis 2015

It’s snowing again in Maine.

Actually, that’s a gross understatement: it’s blizzarding again in Maine and other parts of New England. Steady, thick snowfall all day long with gusty north-northeast winds (though not as gusty as last week’s storm, thank goodness). We’ve got at least six new inches of snow, on top of last week’s two feet or more.

Today’s conditions include frigid temperatures that, according to David’s modest weather station, were at their peak of 3.6 degrees at midnight and now stand at 0.6 degrees.

It’s snowing again in Maine, and I am counting birds at our backyard feeders–three seed-bearing feeders, a wire suet cage, and a heated birdbath that provides fresh water no matter what the temp.

For likely more than a dozen years, David and I have participated in the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s “Feeder Watch” project–a “citizen science” collaboration of ordinary people who feed and watch birds, counting and recording bird data to share with the Cornell Lab’s ornithologists.

For two days each week from November to April we watch for the maximum number of birds at any given time (not a cumulative total) of mostly common species (and a few random strays), and we record our tallies on a sheet like this, to be transferred later to Cornell’s online Feeder Watch site:

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As of this moment, today’s most populous species is the American Goldfinch, with 15 individuals sighted. But the day’s not over, and the count goes on. It’s one small connection to the mysterious world of birds and feathered flight, and one of many ways to practice paying attention.

 

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Things Glimpsed from Afar

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Two Parts Invention, One Part Matisse, oil on canvas, ©Sukie Curtis 2014

The glint of silver coins wedged in the upholstery of the car’s passenger seat caught my eye as I hurried to get somewhere on time and realized I had forgotten to bring parking meter money. Delighted to be rescued from my dilemma, I scooped up the five coins–only to realize that they were not from the USA! Right color, wrong country!

Instead I held an assortment of British pence–some five pence pieces and some twenties–from my daughter Bekah’s year at the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies where she completed a Master’s degree in international Development Studies, or perhaps from our family visit to London for Christmas 2013.

Such is life in our family of two traveling daughters! Coins from Kenya, Tanzania, Ghana, Great Britain and the European Union surface from time to time at our house and mingle with American coins in those dishes that hold mostly our pennies.

Several years ago, not long after my decision to leave the Episcopal priesthood behind (makes me think of the word “divestment”), I took a stab at one of those coaching exercises in which you are to envision being interviewed for a magazine feature some time in the future. I remember describing some of the objects that would be on display in our house (things that weren’t actually there at the time). They included small objects from parts of Africa brought home by one or both of my daughters, as well as an eclectic collection of bright, colorful paintings, some painted by me and some by admired friends.

I don’t remember much else about what I wrote in that exercise, such as what kinds of questions my imagined interviewer asked me and what I offered as answers. It might be interesting to dig around for it just to see.

But in the meantime, there really are objects and fabrics from various parts of Africa adorning our house, and colorful paintings, too! One piece of African fabric (an example of the complex and colorful “wax print” fabrics, some of which are actually created in the Netherlands, worn in many West African countries), a gift from Bekah’s year in Ghana, is featured in the painting shown above, and in the one below.

IMG_1657Composition with African Fabric, oil on canvas, ©Sukie Curtis 2013

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And a Sliver of Sky

 

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Looking into Trees, oil on canvas, ©Sukie Curtis 2014

Most days begin for me in earnest (after brushing my teeth, helping to feed the cats, make tea, etc) in the northwest corner of the large room over our garage, now much cozier thanks to new insulation in the ceiling, floor, and walls and a new heat pump. When I sit at my desk– a large writing table, really–I have a view out a nearby window across my neighbor’s backyard and through a stand of trees to a more densely wooded hillside.

If I turn 90 degrees to my left and look up, I see through a skylight to a rectangle of sky bordered on its lower portion with the tops of tall trees (right now mostly bare-branched oaks). Some days, like today, a robust wind sets clouds racing across my sliver of sky, shifting constantly in shape, texture and color in the endlessly fascinating way of clouds. This morning in the span of ten or fifteen minutes, my view went from that of a bright sky blue with soft white clouds to nearly solid grey with thick snow flurries falling sideways, and then partway back to glimpses of blue. Other days the movement is much slower and more subtle.

In the last few years of her life, my mother, who died almost a year ago, spent much of her waking hours sitting in her favorite chair watching the clouds and trees and birds outside her windows. I am grateful for our shared enjoyment of clouds and for the fact that she expressed an interest in some of my paintings of clouds. I am glad that I was able to contribute some painted glimpses of clouds to her view, even when no real clouds were in sight.

What a crazy thing it is to paint clouds, especially on a windy day! That is, if one has any inkling of trying to recreate a specific cloud just as it “truly was.” The moment you dip your brush or palette knife into paint to put a mark on a piece of wood or canvas or paper, the cloud has changed, moved, shifted, perhaps even dissipated right in front of you while your hand is still poised for action!

When I sit at my desk in the morning, sometimes I am writing, sometimes just sitting and looking, and sometimes those constantly changing clouds seem the perfect match for my thoughts and feelings, as they too race across the pages of my journal or simply the sliver of sky that is my mind.

SCurtis_AugustSky  August Sky, oil on canvas, ©Sukie Curtis 2013

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Gold in the Broken Places

 

Kintsugi

Perhaps you’ve seen this image and caption before. It appears from time to time on Facebook, and every time I see it and read the caption, I find myself surprisingly, deeply moved.

When the broken bowl with golden cracks and chips appeared again perhaps a month ago, I knew it had something important to say to me. So, for weeks now I’ve been carrying around in my mind’s eye this image of a broken bowl repaired with gold.

This particular Japanese approach to mending broken objects is called “kintsugi,” which I have read means “golden joinery.” It is perhaps a subset of the broader Japanese aesthetic philosophy known as “wabi sabi,” that, so unlike our Western love of youth and “perfect,” beautiful bodies, embraces imperfection, impermanence, aging, and experience as beautiful in themselves.

The year just past was a “milestone” year for me in many ways: it began with the death of my mother, just a few months shy of her 95th birthday; the autumn brought the death of a very dear old friend and former mentor. In the midst of the year I marked my 60th birthday, as did four of my closest friends, two of whom also experienced the death of their one remaining parent.

All in one week in late July, I stood with my siblings to remember and to celebrate our mother, and to lay her ashes to rest beside our oldest brother, and then with my daughter Anna (and without exaggeration, by Anna’s encouragement and patient companionship) I hiked to the summit of Mount Katahdin for the first time. (Though in fact, I didn’t really relax and celebrate until I had dumped my overly heavy backpack beside our car back down the mountain the next day!)

And then, just a few weeks before the closing day of 2014, that image of the broken bowl mended with gold has offered itself to me again. It seems to be calling me to a more complete and more compassionate embrace of my whole life thus far–to take time to look back with clearer eyes, perhaps especially to look again at the broken places, the relationships and experiences still kept in the shadows and tinged with shame or grief, and to bring them out into fresh air and light.

Some day soon I hope to stand more gracefully as my whole self, holding my life in my hands as a beautifully broken and mended pot, trusting in the value and the gift in all of it.

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Often Looking into Trees

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Looking Into Trees, oil on canvas, 5″ x 5″, © Sukie Curtis 2014

I often find myself looking into trees–out the window from the desk where I write first thing in the morning, or out into our back yard from the kitchen, or on walks, or in borrowed views in other people’s houses.

I love watching the morning light move through the trees as the sun rises. And I love the way light dances and vibrates through leaves and on bark when the wind is blowing and sets everything in motion.

Some of my first “plein air” (painted outdoors) efforts were variations on looking into the trees visible from our back yard, both within and beyond our wooden fence. Looking into trees and savoring the way light falls upon, within, between, and among them.

These days I’ve come back around to painting trees. And while I’m well passed true “middle age” (unless I were to live to 120!), I find myself considering the opening lines of Dante’s Divine Comedy: “In the middle of the journey of our life I came to myself within a dark wood where the straight way was lost.” There’s something about looking into trees and loving trees that helps me find my way when I feel lost. What a gift.

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Windfall Apples

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Windfall Apples (work in process), oil on canvas, 26.5″ x 28″

Who’s to say why some paintings seem to come together more easily than others? Some sort of combination of the potency and clarity of the inspiration together with that elusive “getting out of one’s own way” to let the creative energies flow, both from outside oneself and from within.

Earlier this week I was feeling as if I was “stumbling forward”–which is a little better than slipping backwards or being stuck!–but I wasn’t exactly sending a lot of momentum in my painting life. But working on this painting has helped to change that.

The painting above–this might not be 100% finished, but is close!–was inspired by a stunning array of apples felled by wind and ripeness around the skirts of several apple trees in a family estate that abuts our neighborhood. The fact that the property itself is under contract to a developer and part of it is under consideration for purchase by the town means it will inevitably and perhaps even dramatically be changing.

There’s something both beautiful and poignant about these apples, which I “liberated” from the ground beneath the apple trees.

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Inspired by Islesford

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Early Morning View into the Trees, oil on canvas, 12″ x 12″, © Sukie Curtis, 2013

The morning light threads its way through a patch of trees–it’s an endlessly fascinating scene to try to capture the essence of, whether at home in the trees across a neighbor’s yard outside my window at home, or in the view from a rented cabin on Islesford (see above). I’ve sketched this view more than once with pen, watercolor pencils and oil pastel, then later translated it with oils.

This is another one of the small paintings that will be shown (and for sale) at the Yarmouth Art Festival next week at St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church in Yarmouth, Maine. All three were inspired by time on Islesford.

The image below is perhaps my favorite of them all–a quirky, colorful, playful interpretation of a jug of kitchen tools that started as a “semi-blind” contour drawing. The painting was done on a canvas that had another painting on it already, one that I was ready to let go of.

Some days I find myself wishing I too had a crockery jar of tools as quirky and as colorful as that one! (I think the lime green shape was inspired by my green Nalgene water bottle that stood nearby.)

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Islesford Kitchen, oil on canvas, 12″ x 12″, © Sukie Curtis, 2013

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