Last Monday, friends and family gathered to say good-bye to Dad. We celebrated his life at The Surrey Arts Centre, a multi-faceted museum and performance space for artists — young, established, global and local — adjoining a sprawling public green space and gardens near our home.
Among those who spoke were my two brothers. Dave described Dad’s lifelong commitment to art and to a global community of fellow artists. “One of Dad’s most powerful gifts,” said Dave, “was his enduring question to himself and to others: ‘What do I want to do today?’ ” My twin, James, presented a collection of vintage slides revealing Dad’s passions and friendships. It confirmed a life lived fully and fearlessly. Here is, in part, what I added:
Dad. Our flame. Our solar system’s supernova, around which we’ve orbited in awe. Our source of all joy, all grace, all wisdom and wonder.
Once, while lying in the tall dune grasses at Hollyhock, I told my dad I was certain his exact location was visible from space. It would surely be seen as a throbbing orange, aura-like glow.
Dad’s location could be narrowed down, for periods, to a four-by-four foot spot at our home on Beckett Road. Here, with his force of infinite dedication, he logged infinite moments of joy and toil, practice and patience, craft, love and boundless discovery: Dad’s ardent becoming. His journey evolved by way of curiosity, through victory and dud, by way of experimentation, triumph and reflection, through impossible ideas and brilliant solutions, by examination, escape and devotion and through periods of quiet solitude, raucous conversation and playful play. This is the place where Dad expressed his essence, his heart, his soul, and from where he loved us.
He called his easel, “the nuclear sun of an uncommon universe.” Here, where the floor is a soft sponge of permanently damp boards and subfloor, under original 1974 linoleum. And a 1920’s secretary chair, painted grey, with two well-worn spots where you lean back in it. When Dad started wearing suspenders a few years ago, he created yet another means of clocking his devotion, scratching away the chair paint, all the way to the wood. And hanging at the top right-hand corner of the easel from a Robertson screw is an ancient leather loop holding his maulstick — to balance his brush hand over a delicate counterpoint, his “colour surprise,” and to sign his name. “Squeeze your paints like a millionaire,” he told us. An original overhead spring lamp, wired by Grandpa, has a hand switch that goes “clack” when activated –the sonic signal to the beginning or to the end of a daily, magical transportation. Now and always, to work here has been to embody a spirit beyond reasonable comprehension — something to be cupped lightly in wonder, to be cherished in all its depth, detail and strength, while channelling the child-like wonder that bubbles there. Now, we endeavour to carry on, with astonishment and gratitude for its lingering warmth and power.
PS: “Art is a path on which we honour our world.” (Robert Genn)
Esoterica: When I was a little girl, Dad would describe for me a world by design. It became a myth between us — an idyllic place for being still and for doing, for creating, with room for possibilities and with just enough provisions for comfort and privacy, allowing the imagination to roam with what he referred to as “all the right sounds.” His hints stuck with me. All my life, I heard from Dad about this world, and when we were in some spot or another, while travelling, mosey-driving, or waiting for something to happen — like a ferry to dock, or plane to land, or a basket of fish-n-chips to arrive, he would remind me of this world and how it was up to all of us to create.
A few years ago, I walked into a friend’s house in upstate New York and flipped open a small, linen-bound book on her kitchen table. A page fell open and my eyes rested on a familiar place. There read Dad’s encouragement. Here’s what it said:
THE LAKE ISLE OF INNISFREE
“I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made;
Nine bean rows will I have there, a hive for the honeybee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.
And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight’s all a-glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet’s wings.
I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements gray,
I hear it in the deep heart’s core.”
Artist and human being — Dad — lived at his highest expression in a world of his own design. He has poured love and inquiry in every direction. Living without him would be an agony but for the instructions he left for us. If he hasn’t told you before, I’ll share them with you now. They’re simple:
“Be happy. Have a beautiful life.”
Strolling at Sunset
18 x 24 oil painting on canvas
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