Wednesday, October 28, 2009

October's Fire

After losing art to fire, I've become obsessed with flames and their purgative power. When my barn burned down that dry August day, taking my studio and thirty years of work with it, I was surprised that my first response to the loss was an overriding sense of relief. There, a part of me thought, with alarmed satisfaction. That's over with. And since then, I do occasionally now carry chosen pieces of artwork out to the fire ring, and with unwavering deliberation, take a match to them. Maybe they are pieces I've never been happy with, or maybe they are simply taking up too much space, or just maybe, as was the case with my most recent art editing pyre, a small rodent, mortally wounded by my merciless cat, sought shelter behind a painting that was leaning against the wall, and curled up and died there. (This apparently took place several weeks ago, by the looks of the rotting, and yes, stinky, corpse, which I happened upon when my recent cleaning spree took me upstairs to the spare bedroom. I knew I could smell something every time I walked down that hallway...!)

So, yes, the bottom edge of this piece, a large assemblage on luan panel, stank. For one brief moment I considered scrubbing it and leaving it in the sun to bleach, but there came a stronger urge to burn the thing. I figured, I have digital documentation of the work. I felt ready and compelled to let it go.

It was a portrait of a friend of mine, a woman who is challenged with mental illness and severe ADD. Because of her disabilities, she has extreme difficulty keeping her house clean. Her home becomes engulfed with dirty dishes, clothes and stacks of papers. She gets completely overwhelmed, and cannot figure out where to begin to pick up. Then she gives up, and the mess becomes deeper and more tangled. This summer she had the courage to finally ask her friends for help, and a few of us pitched in and cleared the place out. I was thinking about all of this as I watched her portrait burn. I thought about how every piece of art we make is a self-portrait of sorts, and that this piece represented a part of myself, the part that I've been dealing with this fall, with my move back home, and all the cleaning, purging, organizing and rearranging that this move has necessitated. So, it seemed a perfect choice (albeit not a fully independent and conscious choice on my part - seems that my cat and a certain unfortunate mouse had more to do with it...) to put this particular piece of mine on the fire, and I said goodbye to that cluttered part of me as I stood there in the roaring heat watching it burn through thick smoke.

And isn't this what autumn is about? The golden leaves of October are a flaming goodbye to all that was created in green summer.


Susan Beauchemin said...

Flame head! Great and beautiful flame shots. Being in the "Autumn" of my life, I DO feel crispy around the edges. Perhaps there's an inner purge going on too--I certainly hope so! Flame on!!

Karen said...

What an amazing post!

Don Gray said...

Beautifully written, Martha. As an artist I understand the desire/need to purge earlier work and have consigned a fair amount of my own to the trash heap without hesitation. Still...when I think of your lovely work going up in flames, I mourn.

Jeane Myers said...

loved this post Martha - I have an annual purge - I burn it also - it seems more final then letting it go on in the trash to yet another place - I just did mine about a month ago and it really allowed me to paint more freely :)

Dean Grey said...


I absolutely LOVE how the head of the shadow is on the flame!

So, so cool looking!!!