Thursday, March 27, 2008

Now I Can See the Moon















In 2002 my husband and I were busy transitioning Lisbeth to her own home. That August, a barn fire destroyed my studio and thirty years of artwork, including a series of portraits I made during my Carina House Residency on Monhegan Island in 1995. No one was at home at the time. The Fire Chief called that night with the results of his investigation: the fire had started due to an electrical short in the wiring that led to the fuse box in my studio. I was surprised at my reaction to losing my art and my studio. My internal response was,
There. The slate is clean.

Thirteen years earlier in 1989, I created my self-portrait June/July Self (top pic). I drew the fuse box from my studio behind me. It was mounted on unfinished sheetrock, although that day I decided to make the wall in my drawing red and orange. I even wrote the word FIRE directly beneath the fuse box next to the bottom corner where the wire fed into it(!). Looking at this drawing now I wonder, did I have a premonition? This drawing contains the foreshadowing of the dramatic close of a chapter in my life that had opened just as dramatically 14 years earlier with Lisbeth’s illness.
When I searched through the rubble of my burnt studio I found the remains of one of my self-portraits. Arrival on Monhegan/Self was the first self-portrait I drew during my Carina House Residency. It shows me looking a little lost. Now with its charred edges it speaks poignantly about survival. This piece was completed with Fire as a collaborator.

Fire burns away all impurities, and reduces the old to ashes, from which arise the phoenix (new spiritual life).
A few days after the fire I had this dream: I was out by the barn and noticed a crow sitting close to me. I put my right hand out toward it and it bit me hard and would not let go. The crow in alchemy represents the nigredo, the initial blackening of the Little Work that paves way for the Great Work.
The clean slate.

With my children grown, Lisbeth transitioned, and my studio gone, I decided that fall to apply to the Maine College of Art for the spring semester. I lost so much in that fire, but the insurance money enabled me to return to school full time. It was as if a ferocious but loving hand took my work in exchange for a new beginning. My art became burnt offerings. I found a card in a bookstore during my first semester at MECA that reads:

Barn’s burnt down...now I can see the moon.

I've kept it up on my fridge ever since.


June/July Self, 1989
pastel, oil, charcoal and colored pencil on Rives BFK, 22" x 30"
collection of Eben and Tracey Miller
Arrival on Monhegan, Self, 1995
pastel, oil, pencil (and fire!), about 22" x 25"
collection of the artist

3 comments:

Showing up for the Muse said...

wow- This is quiet a story. You are an example of the alchemist who turns straw into gold, and I am deeply moved by your words... words- you can see the moon

Martha Miller said...

Thanks, Tillie! Yes, wasn't that a great little poem to find after all that? I enjoy and am moved by your words as well.

Anonymous said...

This is stunning. Beautiful. Relevant and so stunning.

Jasai
The New FastGirl
www.thenewfastgirl.com