The day she left I was busy finishing a huge landscape. It was an epic canvas. The piece de resistance for my upcoming one-man show.
I remember talking to her from my studio. Telling her all about my painting. How thrilled I was with the tension in the piece, and the vibration of colors.
Of course, I was talking to an empty house. While I was immersed in myself and my art she had been packing and then quietly left.
Sometimes life makes no sense. Especially the perverse contradictions. Like when one area of your life is blooming beautifully, but at the expense of another part of your life.
It’s an old and familiar saga. The collision between love and creative passion. Look no further than Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. Art and love can fuel a tortured alchemy.
Having it all
There’s a sign hanging in my studio bathroom. This is what it says:
“Having it all doesn’t necessarily mean having it all at once.”
I always figured it meant I could piecemeal my happiness. You know, have the art success now and work on the love thing later. But it doesn’t seem to work that way. There’s a longing that remains.
“Incidents of the past- a lost love, a missed opportunity- shape us and make us what we are.” — Rana Daggubati
I phoned my father and invited him to join me for a beer at our local brewery. I figured a few IPA’s were in order, to help me untangle my relationship mess.
Dad doesn’t mince words. “It’s your own fault, son. I love you, but let’s face it, your first love is art. How can she compete with that?”
The short answer? She can’t. Who wants to compete with an all-consuming passion. God knows she tried at first. Staying up late until I finished a piece. Going to all those gallery openings. Helping me update my website. But I guess hope doesn’t spring eternal and her patience waned.
I can’t blame her. After all, what did I contribute? Who was I to think her world should revolve around me? Why didn’t I take more of an interest in her passions? The thing about selfishness is that you’re the one who gets stung in the end.
“I have freedom. But freedom means total selfishness. It means nobody cares much what you do.” — Lynn Barber
I missed her terribly but stayed focused on the upcoming show. Everything was set in place. I finished all the pieces for my one-man show, shipped them to the gallery, and made my travel arrangements.
And then the phone rang.
“Mom had a heart attack!” my sister Heather said. “We’re at County General. It’s serious. I called Father O’Malley.” I could hear the fear in Heather’s voice, I grabbed my car keys and raced to the hospital.
Father O’Malley was the local priest in our Catholic church and a friend of the family for many years.
Sins of the father
Dad and Mom divorced when I was thirteen. I think I cried for a month. Dad was an entrepreneur and completely immersed in his work. Mom was always ushering us kids to school and sports and playdates.
Dad? He was like a kabuki theater actor. Flitting around in the shadows of our lives. Periodic appearances but never really present. I was mad at him for many years but in the last few we started to reconnect.
Father O’Malley spotted me at the nurse’s station and pulled me aside, saying, “Your Mom is sleeping right now, and your sister went down to the cafeteria. Let’s talk.”
We strolled over to the chapel and sat down. Father O’Malley faced me, held my hand and said, “Heather told me the doctors stabilized your mom. She’ll require four stents but should be okay.” I breathed a sigh of relief. Then Father O’Malley continued.
“You know how close I am to your father and mother. But I have to tell you, your father fell victim to his work. It always came first. It’s why he’s so financially successful. It’s why you guys had such a beautiful home on the west side. Let’s face it, your Dad thrives on the trappings of success. His BMW. His impressive home. But here’s the thing. I don’t think he’s happy. I think he bypassed the simpler things, like family and small pleasures, for his business success.”
I looked at Father O’Malley and said, “Why are you telling me this, Father?”
“Because you’re just like your father. Sins of the father and all that. You’re consumed by your art. And I worry that you’ve put all your eggs in one artistic basket. It seems to me you wouldn’t be alone right now if you found a bit of balance. A space in your life. A space for her.”
Of course, he was right. Father O’Malley was always right. I had driven away the only woman I truly loved because my art was more important to me.
“How did you know about our breakup?” I asked Father O’Malley. He smiled and said, “I’m a priest. It’s my job to pay attention to my flock.” Then he lowered his head and said, “I just worry that once the gallery openings are over, and after the reviews and adulation, you’ll have no one to share it all with. Just like your father can’t share his success with your mother anymore.”
We are what we do
One of my favorite authors is the late Dr. Gordon Livingston. I feel kind of stupid because I’ve read all his books but obviously didn’t absorb anything.
Dr. Livingston wrote the following:
“We are what we do. Not what we think, not what we say, not what we feel. We are what we do.”
What I do is paint. And drive away the people that love me. Maybe Father O’Malley and Dad are right. I’ve put my art first and everyone else second.
I remember when Dad and Mom got divorced. I was angry and sad. I felt like Dad let us down and I hated him for a while. But then Father O’Malley told me this:
“There’s one thing that evil can’t stand. And that’s forgiveness.”
Those words hit me deep and began a thaw in my heart. Before long I reached out to Dad and started a new relationship. To my surprise, he admitted his own mistakes and regrets.
What is essential is invisible to the eye
My one-man show was quickly approaching and I was getting excited. I knew some influential art dealers and journalists would be there. A few days before the show I sent an email to my girlfriend. Well, former girlfriend. And part of what I wrote was this:
“My family priest told me the other day that, ‘What is essential is invisible to the eye. The things that are center stage are rarely the most important.’ I’ve made my art center stage for a long time. Everything else was second. But I’m beginning to realize that I need more than art. I need love. I need someone to hug when I come home. Someone who knows my history. Someone to care for me when I’m sick, and that I can care for equally. Someone to share our mutual successes and failures.
What I need is you.”
Finally, the night of the one-man show arrived. To my great surprise, Mom recovered enough to attend. Heather and Dad helped her into the gallery. “I’m so proud of you, son,” Mom told me. I hugged her for a long time.
Father O’Malley was there. He told me my work must be divinely inspired. God bless him.
There were photographs and interviews and conversations with patrons. It was an amazing night. A night any artist would kill for. Except, something was missing. The woman I most wanted to share it all with.
Near the end of the evening, as the crowd thinned, my agent came over and handed me an envelope. I opened it carefully and read the words:
“I need you, too.”
My agent smiled and said, “Look above you on the second landing.” So I looked up and there she was. Clutching a bouquet of roses and smiling broadly.
“Without love, our earth is a tomb.” — Robert Browning
I bounded up the stairs and wrapped my arms around her. Told her I loved her. Told her I was sorry. As Father O’Malley smiled at us from below, I realized that it was possible. I could balance my life between the woman I loved and the art that defined my life.
And I felt deeply happy.
Adapted from and originally published at https://fineartviews.com.
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I’m John P. Weiss. I draw cartoons, paint, and write about life. Join my free newsletter here to follow along.