Creativity machine


Dear Artist,

When I left California for Vancouver in May, I had a solo show scheduled to open in the Fall and made a plan to work on it at my Mum’s house. In my 30th year of painting professionally, I welcomed the opportunity to work within the limitations of our family circumstances and to be open to new painting conditions and contexts. Because the show would be in Vancouver, I was also grateful that I could paint it in my Mum’s presence and be with her all the way up to the opening and beyond.

Carol at the MoMA, circa 2010

Museum-hopping with Carol, NYC, 2014

When my Mum and I realized that her condition was progressing more rapidly than her oncologist had prepared us for, I revisited old fears around my ability to produce something worthy. My Mum and I were in the throes of battling, full-time, to preserve her comfort and our precious weeks together. We also both knew we were equipped to face the pressures and heartache the experience would bring. In that regard, we felt we were going to be okay. But privately, inside, like so many people in similar situations — those afforded the privilege to take time to be with their loved ones, anyway — I worried about my work.

Soon, something happened. My Mum and I, already in a life-long rhythm, now paced ourselves in a kind of stopped time. What, for a less-experienced me, could have risen into a mountain of self-doubt, appeared instead as a solace to the ever-building heartbreak. I moved my work from the studio upstairs onto the dining room table, under a north-facing picture window and my Mum’s own personal, party-animal hummingbirds. I listened to her sleeping in her bedroom, next door. As I dipped my brush, more measured – calmed – and pushed into the linen, it gushed over me like an opened floodgate: “This pressure is not a distraction, a hindrance, an intrusion, or menace to the greater and more important life experience of caring for my Mum. It is, rather, an answer and companion to this moment.”



PS: “Art cannot be above the battle.” (Howard Taubman)

Esoterica: Acute vulnerability, its own pandemic, and guaranteed in life, is a time to make art. My big brother, Dave, on Level 10 of work and parenting, visited us every few days. When he opened the front door and saw the spread of work that had made its way down from the upper floor, I heard an audible gasp of relief. It was perhaps, for him, the universe righting itself ever so slightly, amidst our collective and staggering disorientation. The gift of art had taken its rightful place as N on the compass, in the most intimate of settings, as a comfort and practice of devotion and hope. Now, back in my studio in Palm Springs, both grieving and loving, painting is a productive point of focus and life meaning. I willingly plug myself into the nourishment of this creativity machine — a thing into which I pour all of my care and feelings. Out comes something which strives to be beautiful. I willingly plug myself into this gift to my life; nurtured by my Mother’s ardent and lifelong support. “Art is a form of love. Art is the ultimate gift. Art heals life.” (Robert Genn)

The exhibition Looking for Colour opens at Gallery Jones, 1-258 East 1st Avenue, Vancouver, BC, Canada this Thursday, October 14th, 2021. If you’re in the neighbourhood, I would love to see you. 

“In your light I learn how to love. / In your beauty, how to make poems. / You dance inside my chest, where no one sees you, / But sometimes I do, and that sight becomes this art.” (Rumi)



    • Grant Strange on

      Keep your letters coming, I try very hard on reading them throughout each week. You give me lots of info up with most of your letters! I’m a painting instuctor for 10 ladies and a couple of men at the senior center in our town. Thank you so much! Grant S.

  1. Dear Sara
    Condolences on the loss of your beautiful mother, Carol. Thinking of you and all your family as well as all her friends.

  2. Sara,

    Thank you so very much for this beautifully written letter. My mother had passed when I was in art school and she did not get to see me graduate from studying for my second career. The closeness you shared with your Mum while you were painting for your exhibition was a special time for you both. Hold onto the wonderful memories you have of her, for having walked here once, we remain always. My thoughts are with you during this difficult time.


  3. What a beautiful artistic memorial to your beloved Mum. Your gift with words share the same creativity as your art on the walls, and it expresses so well what we all feel. Like your Dad’s letters. Thank you for sharing.

  4. As it happens, today is the anniversary of each of my parents’ deaths, 16 and 18 years ago. This post both reflects some of my experience and heartens my present.

  5. Sara, your le/ter resurrects in me many feelings of unfinished grief. I was working in Haiti and my biological mother die valentines day 1989. My adopted mom, her sister, died in 1990, 3 days sooner, Feb. 9, 1990, after I’d returned to the states. All a blur. Sory for your loss, may you honor the good and forget the disappointments.

  6. How gorgeous your words express what many of us have experienced and the healing power of your art, Sara. None of us know what the future will bring, but we can pick up brush or pen every day and renew our love of life. Your Dad’s and your letters have touched me deeply. October is the month I lost both parents, Dad in 2000 and Mom in 2004. So they are always with me in my heart. Congratulations on your continuing work!

  7. I was just in Palm Springs, in a similar situation. Every time I’m there, it is a good feeling to know that you are there, too, making your art and crafting these meaningful letters. Love you, Sara!

  8. yes, sara, yes. this. so wonderful. thank you for your beautiful thoughtfulness and eloquence. i take such solace in your words and your friendship, however remote it may be. sending love from my studio to yours.

  9. Dear Sara, you are very fortunate to have had exemplary parents, utterly devoted to you and your siblings. Their goodness and wisdom will sustain you for the rest of your lives.

  10. Sara,
    Thank you for sharing yourself and your Family with us. I love the photo with Carol’s bright pink purse and the
    painting of same!
    I grew up in Palm Springs….good luck there.
    Janie Brown Payne

  11. I so agree. Art can also turn the pain of loss. It can by connecting yourself back to yourself, the one that has almost fallen off the edge in grief, making us new, rebuilding from what has been lost; a renewal, but never a forgetting. It’s a silent dialog of healing in the one truest way, getting right with your self from your self. Best therapy Ever.

  12. So thankful you are surrounded by so much love and so many wonderful memories…and that you have your artistic passion to keep you comforted too. Hope your Vancouver show goes well. Xoxo

  13. So sorry for your deep loss. Glad you were there for her in her time of need. It must’ve brought her great joy in knowing you were sharing this time of amazing creativity in her presence, too!! Art really soothes our sorrows and creates new beauty in the world! Hope your show is a big success and brings joy to many.

    I am also balancing my creativeness through a time of fighting my husband’s cancer. His prognosis us good, but it takes its toll, nevertheless. Bless you for sharing your emotions with us. You continue to be an artistic inspiration to us all!

  14. I did marvel at your ability to work and produce art for a solo exhibition during this very difficult year you have been having. How did she do that???? I asked myself. Thank you for answering my question. I ponder each day when I get to my easel how healing and lifting it feels just to hold the brush. There is a purity of calm in making art, you reaffirmed this truth to me again. Your work glows with peace and calm. I hope your exhibition is a huge success, although I think that has already happened. Thank you Sara!

  15. This is very inspiring, Sara. Thank you for sharing with such intimacy and clarity. What a beautiful assertion and expression of the human spirit. Kate Mayo

  16. Having gone through such a similar experience with both of my parents, not cancers, but their departure…Parents who encouraged my art, know that so many of us can appreciate your words and know your experience. Paint on.

  17. Yes, we are in it – life that is – and it is in us. When we forget we falter. Then we remember and keep exploring. No inside, no outside and the work is us and we are the work. Like Mickey in the night kitchen by Sendak.

  18. What a beautiful testimony to the Power fo Art to heal our soul and how wonderful that you were able to be with you mother in her moments of Need. I was able to do the same thing with my mother. Thanks for a great letter

  19. Beautiful! What a very moving letter, Sara. Thank you!
    Congrats on your show! Looks beautiful!!!
    And does anyone know who the artist of the painting Carol is looking at is?

  20. Blessings to you and your loves. Your ability to crystalize ideas and feelings visually and textually is appreciated. “I heard an audible gasp of relief. It was perhaps, for him, the universe righting itself ever so slightly, amidst our collective and staggering disorientation. The gift of art had taken its rightful place as N on the compass, in the most intimate of settings, as a comfort and practice of devotion and hope.”

    The healing GIFT that sustained, healed and connected you all – and you encourage us to trust….
    Just beautiful…
    Thank you.

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