Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Private Prize

When I was a little girl, my grandmother used to tell me that rain was the tears of people who lived in heaven. She never had a good answer when I asked why they were so sad, but she regarded sadness as a part of living. I understand that more everyday.

I might have been surrounded by sadness as a child, but never knew it. My family did a good job of making hard times happy and leaving us wanting for little except maybe control over our finances. At a very prosperous time for my parents, perhaps before I was around, my mom bought a piece of art. This was a luxury even though she was a successful flight attendant and made a comfortable living. She spent the money on something that was purely for enjoyment and not at all practical - opposite of her way and a real indulgence.

I don't remember the day this piece first graced the wall of her bedroom, because it seems like my entire life it was there. The object of many aimless staring sessions, some studied fascination and a lot of mystery, this piece of art was the only one I'd ever seen... that was called 'Art'.

Sure, I'd seen paintings and prints.. I fancied myself an artist as a child, but nothing in the house, even cherished oil paintings of local Texas bluebonnets painted by friends, was called 'Art'. That is, except this piece. I'm sure I asked Mom at some point what made this framed wonder so special and why I couldn't stop staring at it, and I even remember some of that answer, but no one ever told me why it was so unique. Mom loved it. She would look at it a lot, and you could see her just jumping right in the frame with it, especially during the cold years when our family was less prosperous. It seemed to stand for something, something that she relied on to get her through hard times.

As it turns out, it certainly has value. It was made by a famous art deco artist known as Erte, one of his serigraphs. He's a celebrated artist and his works can be very expensive. This one, numbered and signed, I'm sure is worth some money, but it's not the monetary value that makes me want to have it and look at it now.

You see, my grandparents grew up in the depression, my parents were taught to appreciate money in their own way. My family was never achingly poor, but we felt the pinch more times than I care to recall. In those times, value of things and stuff was inflated by hope, those things - and especially this serigraph were assets of a family that had little and dreamed of plenty. I never knew then why I loved it so much. 'After the Rain' was just nice to look at, to stare for hours and explore. I imagined how it was made, what went through the artist's mind while conjuring the image, but most of all, why my mom liked it so much. I searched within the dots and layers to find what special part within made her happy.

Although it doesn't grace the same wall in her house, I can still recount many details. I've counted the raindrops in each column, carefully examined the face and its expression, appreciated the white space around the image... once opulent and wasteful, now I see that matting as a separation between what you see inside and what is the same around you. As it turns out, for me, what drew me to this piece was not what was embossed on the paper, but what was reflected from my life from within and without.

One might look at the image link and see a very sad person, surrounded by evidence of their pain, so much that the clouds had to weep along with the subject. When I was young and struggling financially or emotionally or socially my life was always better than what I saw in there. Nothing could be so sad that the real clouds would cry with me. Now, I see more of an equal reflection. Not sadness, just the line between it and happiness. Life has layers of bad and every once in a while, they all align like a serigraph to create a hell of a rainstorm. Things in your control like your own tears may stop, but you can't censor rain, or the clouds that come along.

The similarities look to the sky as well. Many times I have looked out the window of an airplane, as I imagine mom did, and have glimpsed clouds as two-dimensional. You only suffer their precipitaion or darkness while you are below, but when you climb above, a more sunny and beautiful side of them appears.

I'm sure there are many reasons to relate to art, especially Erte's pieces. I see balance there, enjoying relative happiness in a glass-half-full glow, and seeing reality for its more sinister beauty. Sometimes rain, tears, darkness and light, and hope all collide in front of you. If you're listening, you can behold a moment of clarity and this visage will be valuable... Not in dollars, necessarily, but in peering through the obvious to see the clandestine pieces of yourself reflected back.

It makes you want to share, to use your own vision to understand, to explain... but it is only yours. I'm the only person who sees this serigraph exactly this way, but I'm not the only one who sees it. For mom, the paper reflects something completely different, but no less significant.

Either way, it's beautiful.

Image courtesy of gallerydirectart.com.

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