Sunday, January 22, 2006

The last sense to go is not hearing

He'’s fallen asleep on the drive home. His right arm and hand inscribe a repetitive motion. She glances at him, curious. This has happened before when he has dozed off in the car. When he wakes up a few minutes later, his wife asks, "What were you doing?"

"Painting."

He is in the intensive care ward of a small local hospital. Surgery has left him a souvenir infection - irregular heart beat, yellow eyes and fever. He wakes up not knowing where he is but knowing that he's been painting all night. He'’s distraught that the staff have taken the paintings away. "“I put them under the bed,"” he tells them. They're some of the best he ever did. It takes a lot of convincing to persuade him otherwise.

Today, I found a watercolor done in 1999. His vision was going, his hands shook by then. But he didn'’t stop. The painting is a forest scene, three broadly indicated Birch trees are the stars of the piece. There is little detail or finesse. The surrounding trees are little more than black lines, with blurs of yellow and green and sky blue towards the top. The ground is wide slashing ribbons of deep green and gold. The watercolor is thick and dull on the paper. Nothing about it is subtle.

I have read that in some Native North American cultures it's believed that an artist or artisan must never die leaving unfinished work. Someone must be found to complete the work of art. Otherwise the soul of the deceased will continue to stay with their creation.

I put the painting on the wall. It is vivid, breathing and alive. As if my father had internalized the essence of forest, of birch trees.

And even with senses failing, was compelled to speak of it through his brush.

2 comments:

Koru's Daughter said...

I envy any person who paints in his or her mind as it disconnects from our so-called reality. Yet, maybe it is the ultimate reality... Like dogs chasing rabbits in their sleep - painting in our sleep is just an expression of our basic nature.

Bless him.

Teri said...

Your dad sounds like such a beautiful man. Love reading about him.