Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Moved by Art

"Art is pictures straight from the heart."
Ben, Los Cerros Middle School, 1999

I had a rather unique experience today. I don't believe it's ever happened before. I wonder if it will ever happen again.

As I was slowing for a traffic light that was about to change from red to green I glanced into the window of a small art gallery* and caught just a glimpse of a painting that I knew I had to see close up. Like the fairy wings of a couple weeks ago, I knew this picture was worth a trip around the block. My tires didn't squeal, but I bet I made it back to square one in record time. I was right about the picture - a Nativity scene done in brightly colored oils. It was worth the trip. Perhaps it is because I go to an Hispanic church and have grown fond of their use of color, but I felt like this picture in it's abstract beauty had a Latin feel to it. I poked my nose to the glass trying to get a closer look. Already gone from home for most of the day, I had no business dilly dallying at an art gallery. Still, I couldn't help myself. I had to see what was inside this surprise treasure trove.

I've never been much of an artsy person. I don't know a Picasso from a kindergartner's work. But I do know what I like. My choices are as varied as my moods. Some of my favorite paintings, in fact, have been a whimsical childishness to them. This picture, however, was different. It literally spoke to me.

Like the angels encouraging the shepherds to follow the star, "Come along, Mary," the painting seemed to say me. "If you think this one is good, just wait til you see what's inside."

I stepped across the threshold into a place as comfortable as a painter's living room. It had a slight scent of oil paints and turpentine. Pictures of all sizes lined the walls. Giving a nod to the holiday season, there were handpainted ornaments and pieces of intricately beaded jewelry.

The owner of the gallery, Reet London, was almost like a work of art herself. From Estonia, she spoke with a Slavic accent. She was tall and thin. She moved like a dancer. Her skin looked as if it was made of fine porcelain - the kind you want to touch. The only thing that said she was a artist, other than her stature, was the black paint stained apron she wore. Unlike the artist in me, her hair was not astray, she had no paint on her cheeks, hands or shoes. I bet her brushes sat neatly in a tray in her easel.

Reet and I spoke of the Nativity picture. It was painted by an 80 year old Israeli man who moved to Jacksonville to live with his daughters. His work has been shown in galleries all over Europe. He paints the pictures he sees in his mind's eye. In a moment, I wanted to know the man, to sit on a stool in his studio and watch him paint. I wanted to bathe in his talent.

Then, when I didn't think it could get any better, Reed showed me another picture. This one was bigger, had more going on, but was still colorful. It was a painting of the Crucifixion. My hands didn't know what to do. Should I cover my mouth, grasp my heart or reach out to touch the canvas with the same reverence and awe that the ladies at the foot of the cross possessed? In typical fashion, I started to cry.

I had no idea what was happening to me. Like I said, I don't really "do" art, rarely visit an art gallery and often "dis" the stuff that auction houses sell for thousands of dollars. But this, this reaction was physical. This painting touched me in a place I've rarely been touched. To me, it was beauty personified. The pictures together - the Nativity on one wall, the Crucifixion on another - were not only art - they were church. It was like I was standing in the presence of the Alpha and the Omega. The beginning and the end right there on Hendricks Ave in Jacksonville, Florida? Weird, huh?

I'm not sure what it was all about. I've got to tell you, though, so far it tops my list of things that moved me in 2008.

In the hurry up days ahead, I'm wishing you art-filled moments that will take your breath away,
Merry ME


P.S. I googled "Reza" and could only find information about Iranian, not Israeli, Rezas.


Sorrow said...

when i was younger i lived abroad,
and had that "moment" you spoke of.
had the tears and the awe and the reverence..
in this woman's gallery
I still smile deep inside when i think of it...

Ann Marie said...

You shared such joy and power on this warm December afternoon. I love visual art but I cannot produce any. I taught humanities/art for many years to college students and tried to get them to this "aha" moment that you experienced. You've given me a strong reminder to get out of my head and appreciate my surroundings. May we all have a breathless moment like yours.