Art and Death
I flew to Austin April 19th. I missed Clare by two days.
She was battling cancer, she had been fighting four years.
Two weeks before that - April 2nd - Suddenly, a painting I had been messing with on and off for the last four years became urgent that I finish. You know the painting…… that canvas that goes up after you finish a piece and you have no idea what you are painting next. It’s been a globe, a bird, the sea. It’s been red, blue, and purple. I have pitched it out to the shed, turned it backwards and thrown a towel over it. But it always found its way back on my easel. I would think – “this time I am going to figure you out. “
Hal and I would talk. “How’s Clare? “ “You know” he would say. “New chemo, next chemo, infusions more tests. She is fighting so hard. “Is she painting? I would ask. I hope she is painting it would be good for her.”
And suddenly, I could not get that painting out of my head. It became a big abalone shell and in it was the shadow of an owl, the waves crashing, a figure rising up. I called Hal….. “How’s Clare?” “You Know” he would say. “She has been hearing owls outside her window, and asking me if I have heard them since I am only four doors down.” “The tumors are collapsing her lung, she is having trouble breathing. I am worried that she may have only a few months left.”
The painting took over. I just needed to get one more color on, one more line. A friend called and I always send her pictures of what I have going in the studio. She looked at the painting. She said “is this about your friend Clare?” And suddenly as if I had never seen it before because it was so close to me I realized …… of course it is.
Of course it is. Hal called he said “you better get out here.” “ I said I will book a flight.” “Try to get here Tuesday or Wednesday.”
I booked a flight for Wednesday the 19th. I kept painting. On Monday April the 17th I just stopped.. I actually removed that last few strokes I had applied. I walked into tell my husband Danny that it was done.
Hal called……. “You’re going to miss her by two days, she’s gone.”
Four years ago when Clare was diagnosed with Stage 4 uterine cancer they said 4-6 months. She said to me, “when the time comes, please come to Austin, not to see me but to be with Hal when I am gone because I worry about him.”
A bit of history……..
Like the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood or other groups of artists who choose to create a family or household, I am a part of a very close nit group of artists, who at one time, all lived, worked and played together. We created whole events, shows and parties together. We worked on projects, sometimes lived together in the same houses for years. The group had members that came and went, some moved away, others moved back. Some of us have never met, but we know each other’s stories, and have come to feel we know one another because we are all part of the household. I returned to Florida in 2005, but like I said, you never really leave and everyone still knows what everyone is doing due to the households glue, Hal Simon. Hal is a Cultural Anthropologist by education, a state museum’s curator by profession and a collector of artists by nature. This amazing household of artists grew up around him.
YaeL Kelley lives and works at her studio in the Artist Enclave of historic Kenwood in St. Petersburg, Florida. Petersburg, Florida.