Thursday, November 13, 2008

Still Life (Still Alive)

"Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time."(-Thomas Merton)

We received a very special delivery the other day. Since my brother is being transferred to another prison, he was required to send home most of his possessions. This means his artwork, supplies and art books. This is bitter sweet, because it means his masterpieces, which were a virtual window to the outside world, are now here with us. Sweet for us to be able to have in our possession. Bitter that he doesn't have them anymore.

When we opened the boxes and looked through his hundreds of doodles, sketches and practice pieces, I felt as if he was home. I didn't feel so far away. There was something on the bottom of the box, a rolled up piece of canvas. I pulled the canvas scroll out, seeing my brother's name and compulsory inmate number written on it. It tied by a string. I untied and unrolled it, and when I saw what it contained, my heart skipped a beat and I gasped. It was his paint brush holder, with all his brushes.

Maybe it's because the only things previously allowed to make it out of his cell are paintings and letters, or maybe it's because I knew what these brushes have created in his hand. But, to behold his brushes made tears well up.

It was as if I was seeing his very hands. These brushes have created his expressions and feelings for four years now. These brushes have been the key to his very survival and his literal life line. They have created his virtual escape of the six-by-nine foot concrete box he lives in with another person. They've created his portal to exotic places and back home to people he loves.

As most prisoners do, they learn to make something from nothing. My brother often put in orders for art supplies, paid for them, and never received them. His brushes were getting worn down. His solution: grow his hair out to harvest and make "new" brushes with. (He also convinced an inmate who had a pet gopher that died, to let him get some hairs from him for his brush before the burial. ) These are the brushes I beheld.

The still life that he did is something I cannot quit staring at. I've never really been into still life art before, though I do appreciate it. But, this is captivating me.

What do you see?

PS. Sorry for the poor quality photo I took of his painting.


Anonymous said...

What a cool piece! It makes TP think of a "Work in Progress," something not completely formed, but because there is only one brush in the holder to the right, it would seem not *that* much work remains to be done. (OMG, TP is such a poor art critic!)

BTW, we adore Thomas Merton, Miss Cassoulet.

This (as always, is a great post, really provocative, transporting us away from the daily drill for a few minutes.

Thank you,

Anonymous said...

Your posts about your brother are always so wistful.

Not sure what to make of the painting though I like it; the mouth and the apply suggest a temptation theme, though minus the snake or the Garden of Eden

Anonymous said...

I meant apple, not apply. It's way past my bedtime!

La Belette Rouge said...

I see a part of a man, just a piece of him, and he is distant from that basic thing he desires. But, he sees it and this thing he wants is true and solid and real.

I also see a sister who loves her brother so very much. I see a brother who inspires. And, an artist with passion, talent and a willingness not to be imprisoned by limitations and circumstances.

Incredibly touching.

Deb said...

I see the work of a true artist. It is captivating. The detail, the brush to the right has something that looks like chain links? Shadowing, detail, composition - all of it so impressive. I hope he is proud of his work, as you are.

Vicki said...

What an amazing artist. Will you be able to send his supplies back to him once the transfer is complete?

I just read the other comments and I see I am not a true art officionado. I didn't read anything in the painting (not that there isn't a meaning behind what is painted), jut that it was done really well. I'm not very deep...

Cris, Artist in Oregon said...

I see a very professional painting. but I am not sure if all of that is the painting. It looks all so real.
I think LBR said it best what that picture would represent.
That apple it out of reach for him. He is locked in a small square.
Interesting painting. I need to see it in person.

Cassoulet Cafe said...

What amazing comments from each and every one of you. I am not an art critic either, my motto is: it is what it is to you (me).

Preppy: yes, it's very cool, I didn't do it justice AT ALL with my quick, low lighting snapshot. I was desperate to get a shot before I left my mom's house.
Glad to get you away from the daily...:)

Alienne, LBR, and Cris: About the apple; each one of you likened it to something out of reach. The funny thing is, they are not allowed to have apples in prison! So it's obviously one he painted from a magazine (unless they had a special day and were allowed apples...I will have to write and ask him). They aren't allowed fresh fruit (except bananas) because the inmates make "pruno" or alcohol with it.
So, the apple is indeed out of reach.

Cassoulet Cafe said...

Deb: I see a true artist too. He told me this piece was unfinished and not very good. (gah)
I THINK he is proud of his work, though he is so modest...Last time we visited him, I had to tell him constantly to stop being so modest and just say "I AM GOOD AT THIS!!!"
He cracks a smile, and finally says, "ok, I guess i'm good." Sheepish grin.

Cassoulet Cafe said...

We are not allowed to send ANYTHING to him. 4 times a year we can order a care package from a 3rd party vendor, but there are no art supplies. He has to have money on his books, then he places an order (via prison officials) at Dick Blic. It took 3 months for him to get his first supplies, and then half of the stuff was on backorder, which is not allowed at the prison, so he paid for supplies he never gets. Frustrating.
So now, IF his new prison allows artists to have supplies (we heard they don't) he'll have to place a new order for supplies.
If not, he is going to have to go back to graphite and colored pencils.

Cassoulet Cafe said...

It is all the painting...incredible huh? I should have taken a photo with a backdrop, so you could see the canvas (well, masonite board).

Le laquet said...

I'm sitting here crying - I love the apple, I want to pick it up and smell the skin

Cassoulet Cafe said...

Le laquet...Oh, I didn't mean to make you cry...if I could hand the apple to you I would :)
Thanks for coming, maybe next time I'll make you laugh?

Ivy said...

The only thing I can say is that the picture is beautiful. I am not an art critic but this is what I see: Your brother is very talented. The man in the picture (I don't know if it's your brother) is either asleep dreaming of apples is is awake and very sad. The apple could be symbolic. A temptation may be?

Dorkys Ramos said...

Wow this is such a great post. Thanks for sharing this and your brother is so talented! I hope he can continue to create art soon.

Cassoulet Cafe said...

Thank you so much for your comment...yes, actually that IS my brother (when seeing the painting in real life, you can see that's it's actually his reflection in the mirror...and to me, it is his classic look of concentration/pondering and sometimes his sad look)
I'm so pleased that so many came and commented how they viewed the painting...

Cassoulet Cafe said...

Dorkys ramos,
I'm so glad you appreciated this post. I, too, hope that he can continue to paint where he's going. Of course, he'll always be able to have a pencil and he's amazing with a pencil too :)
Thanks so much for coming by!

Cassoulet Cafe said...

PS. to IVY:
By the way, my brother is learning Greek! He has sent me complete letters in Greek, and makes the Greek writing look just like a beautiful piece of artwork!
(We have a new found cousin in Greece, so my mom sent him books/cd's to learn Greek and he's really gotten quite obsessed with it!) ;)

Blicky Kitty said...

I see it as a painting all about longing. I assume that the flat surface we see is a small mirror he's using for the self portrait. But like a painting the mirror reduces a person to two-dimentions.
He is surrounded by the tools of his art. He sets up an interesting tension between the apple and his mouth; the part of himself made visible. If he could emerge from this tightly circumscribed space he could bite into the apple. He's able to interact with the outside world through his art, but he can't touch it or taste it in a meaningful way.
I see not only technical mastery but confidence in the brushwork. He is able to use color in a really sensitive nuanced way (I see yellows and blues in the background of the paper and subtle red shading in the shadow around the apple) yet he is unafraid to let portions of is brushwork show in appropriate places. There are some strong, confident strokes around the the top of the apple.

hehe, thanks! This will be the only point in the day where I can actually use my training. Back to wiping bums and scrambling for the schoolbus!

Fifi Flowers said...

A VERY talented artist! When he is out he MUST show his art to the world! You are already helping him! THe blog world is amazing and you can touch people EVERYWHERE! You are a wonderful sister!
ENJOY your day!

Laura said...

I see a man that is half in our world and half in another. Not fully formed and complete in society. The color green of the apple signifies the beauty of this world and how he longs to be out in the open and free. Thank you for opening your heart and soul with us.

Anna Lefler said...

This post completely captivated me, as did your brother's painting.

I'm certainly not skilled in art interpretation, but the feeling I get from the piece is "strength."

The painting and your post are both just gorgeous.

Thank you for sharing them.

:^) Anna

La Belette Rouge said...

Please come by my blog tomorrow. I am giving you a very prestigious award( at least in my mind it is).:-)

Cassoulet Cafe said...

I am so touched by everyone's comments, encouragement and support.

Wow, that was incredible. Thank you so much!

Thank you :) He is the artist, I am the cheerleader/marketer. I cannot wait till he gets out and can make this his career...I know he can, and I know he will :)

WOW to your comment too. I just love reading what everyone sees in it.

It is captivating isn't it? Thank you so much for commenting on it as well.

Cassoulet Cafe said...

Oh. My. I can't wait!!!!! :)