Thursday, February 18, 2010

Pulling the Plug, Decision Portrait Series.

(Above: Pulling the Plug, Decision Portrait Series. Framed: 31" x 25"; unframed 25" x 19". Xylene photo transfer on tea-stained muslin. Hand beading and embroidery. Stitched words: I took my mother off life support. Click on image to enlarge.)

Steve and I moved to Columbia in January 1987. We met people quickly, especially as our custom picture framing business started to grow. Toni M. Elkins was one of the first artists we came to know. She encouraged me to "be creative" long before I actually considered this advise! She's been supportive ever since I started turning stitches into fiber art. Our relationship mostly centered around the arts community. I really didn't know much about her family....just tidbits over the years, a casual mention of a daughter's wedding or the fact that her house (like ours) caught fire. (Hers sadly burnt down; ours was miraculously salvaged.)

(Above: Pulling the Plug, detail. Click on image to enlarge.)

Recently, we were discussing our work. I mentioned my Decision Portraits, explaining the concepts and talking about future needing someone who had taken a loved one off life support. Immediately, Toni said, "I did that! I'll pose for this decision".

While I snapped her photo and she signed the model's release, we talked about the difficult time she endured. She prayed for a miracle. She prayed to be spared from this decision. She came to grips with the necessary paperwork....her signature that allowed life support to cease. Reluctantly she signed; she mourns; she knows she did the "right" thing for her beloved mother; and her heart beats for all those who face the same decision.

Each finished portrait is shared via email with the "model" before being posted here on my blog. This gives each person an opportunity to see the work first, read my words and suggest changes. It is also when I ask if using the model's name is "okay".... or whether the blog post should be written in "third person". Toni wrote back, "Thanks for giving me closure on this whole emotional thing".

Closure is a good thing in many ways. It often allows one to move forward, to make the transition into the "next phase" of life. Stitching Toni's portrait was a profound experience for me. The xylene photo transfer was done weeks and weeks ago. It was waiting for me to mount Blues Chapel and Last Words. Once my exhibition was installed, I turned my attention to this piece while manning the show.

My first thoughts swirled around a way to connect the stitching to Toni's decision. Without rising from my studio stool, I reached for the plastic bag of the tiniest artificial cemetery flowers. Everything I needed was within arms length....serendipitously....a very, very smooth transition from all the graveyard inspiration to this earlier series. While couching the words, I thought about "closure" and "transition". I made several important decisions.

The focal point of Blues Chapel, Tapestry in Blue (portraits of the 24 early female blues singers), is now in storage. It was created in 2006 and responsible for so many other pieces....the entire resulting installation. It got me four solo shows before this last one. Yet, it is time to move on. I'm working on exhibition proposals for Last Words. (This is the grave rubbing art quilts and associated work.) I'm working on the Decision Portrait Series too. As much as I truly love Blues Chapel, I've "pulled the plug"....ready for the next phase of my artistic life.


Wanda said...

I just don't know if you can make that decision, to pull the plug on The Blues Chapel. I've heard several people who want the show to come to their area so they can see it first hand. does one go about that? I love the new Decisions portrait. I knew right away, before I read it, that you used the cemetery flowers. And how very appropriate. You not only give closure but you are the receiver of many very personal stories and feelings. What a role you've taken on. Or maybe you didn't take it on at all...maybe it was always meant to be yours.

Bill Evertson said...

I'm glad your Blues Chapel has been so successful. It is a major piece certainly deserving of even more venues.(when you're ready) I'm also glad to see the work on the decision portraits continues. They are so poignant.