Monthly Archives: March 2019

Everything & Nothing

Or: Why Make Art?

Posted March 26, 2019 by Kerry McFall

After I finish a painting like this, I set it on the piano music rack, and go across the small room to sit on the couch, and just look.  And look away.  And look back.

pink rhododendron blooms

“OSU Rhododendron”, mixed media by Kerry McFall

It makes me happy to see a finished painting or drawing.  That is enough, to smile and be happy as I look.  Yes, I learn something with each one.  Perhaps that leaf should have been angled a bit more.  The border needs work.  Or not.  I walk past it the next morning, and smile again.

But there is more to the looking than fleeting happiness.  There is Everything.  And there is Nothing.

I look at the background, the greens and yellows, the darkness and light and shapes and lines that fade into each other, the suggestions of leaves behind the shining blooms, of other stems and plants behind the rhododendron, of the building behind the plants, of the university behind the building, the town, the mountain range, the ocean, the universe.  I know all of that is back there, in the background.  Everything.

I look at the blossom, the pinks and purples and reflected light, the stamens and anthers, the net of veins and arteries and chlorophyll, the life juices, the splashes, the water, the waves, flowing to the endless sea.  It is there in the foreground, all of that.  Everything.  It is right to be on the music stand, this painting, my painting.  It represents to me the music of this day, the tunes behind all those brush strokes and drips and washes.

And yet I know it is merely pigment on paper, paper made of chewed remnants of dead trees, pigments extracted from rocks and soils and brushed on with bits of fur from dead animals, a crude compilation of marks shaped by my hand as I endeavor to make sense out of the world around me.  The world behind and beneath and around my marks is filled with voices that shout about physics I cannot grasp and politics I cannot stomach, wounds I cannot heal and pain I cannot divert, and how can I deceive myself that my simple marks begin to touch the harshness of that reality?  I know the painting will become as nothing the moment I turn to the next page of the sketchbook, forgotten, out of sight and out of mind… Nothing.  Until.  Until in a few weeks or months or years I go through the book again, page by page, remembering.  Looking.  Touching.  And once again there is happiness.  There is Everything.  And the page turns yet again, and there it is again, memory, happiness.  Everything.

And that, I think, is why we humans make art.  Mostly Everything.

Shadows of Spring

shadows of oak tree on path

“Bald Hill Shadows”, mixed media by Kerry McFall

Oregon doesn’t have a lot of bright sunshiny days when the trees are bare, so it took me a while to realize why I was so fascinated by these shadows: the old oak trees produce some rather startling shapes, shapes we rarely see on the ground because it’s usually cloudy for months as soon as the leaves fall!  When the sun does make its rare presence known, it looks as if the tree and its ‘shadow roots’ are mirror images of each other.  With any wind at all, it becomes a giant undulating octopus-like creature, or a winking many-eyed presence reminding us that we are not alone in this meadow.

Vernal equinox, here at last.  It’s been a long, difficult winter, a winter of slow healing.  Now every day brings another small flower, another reason to be glad, another promise of strawberries.  Right now I’m celebrating small victories, like no more daily hyperbaric oxygen therapy, no more awkward vacuum bandages on the surgical wound, maybe just one more surgery will finally close the radiation-damaged chest wall.  Onward and upward!

The Evolution of Cabana Man

man walking out of waves with fancy drinks

“Cabana Man”, mixed media by Kerry McFall

Cabana Man is a Cabana Boy all grown up.  He has been very helpful in my healing process, serving up healthy blood pressure readings for the past several months.  When I was stressed before an HBOT “dive”, the nurses and technicians would invoke his presence in my head, and lo and behold, I could hear the waves gently lapping on the sunny beach, and the readings would respond!

The first time he showed up, one nurse said, “Just imagine you’re on a sunny beach…”.  And being the smart-ass that I am, I added, “…and here comes the cabana boy!”  She was a quick study, and in just moments he was conjured up carrying a tray with a lovely fruity drink garnished with flowers and a tiny paper umbrella, striding out of the surf, strong and smiling.

HBOT is the abbreviation for hyperbaric oxygen therapy, which is now used to help repair the damage done to previously-radiated tissue.  It’s science fiction to my mind, but it seems to have worked to heal my chest wall, so whatever works.  Someday maybe I’ll post my record of the whole bumpy road of my cancer journey, but for now I just want to express how grateful I am for access to such good care by such caring people.

As for the “man” himself, portraits are not my strength and his eyes are kinda wonky… he is not a real person (duh!), but he was a lot of fun to put together, drawing from various photos on the Internet.  Incidentally, searching for “cabana boy” on Google Images will suddenly result in any number of ads on your Facebook feed for T-shirts referring to cabanas and … well, you get the picture.