11 December 2015

Farewell My Friend

When Ravens Speak - 11x14" - Oil on panel
"Gone — flitted away,
Taken the stars from the night
And the sun from the day!
Gone, and a cloud in my heart."
~Alfred Tennyson

I lost a friend yesterday. At first glance that fact has nothing to do with this blog about art, but actually it has everything to do with my art.

I first met Deb online through a fibre arts email list which I had started. Later I was running an online fibre arts magazine and encouraged Deb to write for the magazine. She was a skilled fibre artist who had mastered spinning, knitting, and especially tapestry weaving. She was also a terrific writer, but at that time lacked the confidence. I was glad to be able to feature her writing and her talented work in the magazine, and even happier to be able to pay her for it. 

We finally met in person a year or so later at Olds College during Fibre Week where our friendship really blossomed. Since she lived a province away that friendship remained mostly an online one with many emails going back and forth, and the occasional phone call. The fibre arts magazine soon ended, but I encouraged Deb to keep writing and submit the articles elsewhere, which she eventually did earning many publishing credits to her name.  

When I started working with Olds College as their Fibre Week program coordinator, I encouraged Deb to teach. She was already teaching at Balkwill Centre in Regina and at a local yarn store. She finally agreed to put in a workshop proposal which was accepted and began teaching regularly at the college. It was during one of those workshops which I had taken which changed the course of my life. 

I don't remember what the workshop was billed as - something to do with adding creativity to your spinning, or maybe it was spinning designer yarns - but Deb had designed a class which would challenge the way a spinner thought about making yarn. One of those exercises was blind contour drawing, which was meant to show us that even the wonkiest of drawings was still recognizable as the object we were drawing and that the human mind is capable of creating representational associations from quite abstract images. She taught that passion trumps perfection. For me it was as if a lightbulb had been turned on.

I had, from the day I was born, always wanted to be an artist. It's all I'd ever wanted to be. But over the years the setbacks had gotten in the way. First the lack of support to attend the arts college I'd been accepted into, and then my own ideas on what was required to be a true artist - namely the notion that one needed to be able to draw photographic accuracy without even the aid of a model or photograph. 

In my paintings and drawings back then, I was never good enough because the work was never as realistic as a photograph or the paintings by master artists like Robert Bateman. My photography too was never good enough for me. I wanted to express my love of nature through National Geographic type photographs, but could never achieve that with the lower quality photography equipment I was able to afford. Deb's class put a seed in my head that my photography, drawing, and paintings could be looser, more abstract, but still expressive and full of emotion. It was the beginning of the end for my fibre arts career. 

I always gave Deb credit for changing my life. I'd loved the years I spent working in the fibre arts, but my heart had always belonged to the visual arts. I soon quit working with Olds College, which proved to be hard on Deb since the person who took over held some kind of weird personal grudge for her and was always trying to get her out of the program, but she kept going and immensely enjoyed working with the students at the college every July. 

I would try to go for a visit every year as well, and always came away wishing we lived closer. She cheered my successes with photography and then painting, and I cheered hers with the fibre arts. She was a kind delicate soul, always championing for the underdog. Her love for creatures feared or loathed by most of society was a testament to the gentleness of her soul - bats, spiders, skunks and ravens were some of her favourites. She loved her family greatly, and encouraged them to follow their hearts.

I wish I could have done more during her battle with cancer. I wish I could have done more period. I hope she knew how much she meant to me. I did tell her, but I hope she knows they weren't just words. The world has lost a good one. I will miss her tremendously. But today, I will pick up the paintbrush in her honour with thanks for setting me straight on the path I'd always wanted to take.  
"Death makes angels of us all
and gives us wings
where we had shoulders
smooth as ravens claws."
- Jim Morrison