Untitled (Cancer Drawings), 2005

I didn’t want these works in the show, really. Please take something else, anything else.

They're just not representative of his work.
They were personal drawings, never meant for public exhibition.
I don’t think they’re really very resolved.

That’s not it.

I fucking hated these drawings.

Left to right: 1) With cancer, 2 + 3) getting better, making the cancer weaker, 4) without cancer.

They’re not successful.
That fourth drawing. Maybe the cancer’s gone, but so are YOU. I can’t look at them.

He was doing meditation and visualization exercises. He conjured with line and color. He’s an artist, for chrissakes. And if this series worked? He would die. That fourth drawing doesn’t show a body any more. It’s a vapor, a wisp, a spirit. Perhaps something living, but nothing solid, not an ounce. And he was losing so much weight at the time. He was vaporizing in front of my eyes. At one point that winter he got below 100 lbs. He didn’t tell me till he’d gained it back, in the early spring. Sometime in January he’d lost the use of his right arm. AN ARTIST. He wasn’t writing me phone messages — he’d tell me, and usually forget to. I didn’t know that his actions were to prevent me seeing his handwriting. But that was it: tumors blocking nerves.

So I hated these drawings because they were a failure, they were supposed to show him getting better, but they showed him dying, and as art is always magic, they would work and I could at last blame him. I could relish my rage with him no longer around, but I couldn’t stand to see them. People saw them when they visited the studio those last few months, and at my Day of the Dead event. 

It was a year or two later when the curator mentioned he must include these moving, powerful pieces in this show, this big retrospective of the organization where we met — where I worked for five years, where Gavin had served on the board for six. I wasn't happy about his choice, but it was hopeless to persuade him to take something else. They gave him chills and he insisted they needed to be shown.

I had the better part of a year to get used to the idea of people seeing the four drawings, nearly the last ones Gavin touched. On the way to the loading dock I opened the portfolio and laid them out on my therapist's Aubusson. She looked them over with a gentle smile and a nod. “He knew he was dying,” she said.

The sky above the sea opened up. “Yes, I think he did.” The drawings had been a personal statement and his way of telling me, that I didn’t want to hear. The dance was over at that moment: the tension of what we couldn’t say, wouldn’t share, of his body departing. I’d been hoodwinked, but not really. He hadn’t LIED. He just didn’t say it directly. He didn’t push me. He didn’t want to leave. But he knew he’d lost power over staying.

I mean, why else a horizon line? There’s no horizon line if you’re going to live. It’s infinite, a glimpse of the divine, hope and hopelessness mixed up, but no joy, no physical body. The weather changes over this sea but there’s no sunlight. Gavin’s light always came from within. 

And he hadn’t said, I don’t think, that drawing four was himself, cured. It was the cancer, gone. He knew it before I knew it: of course he did. He had to. We couldn’t look straight at it. It was how we got by.

But knowing that he knew the end of his story, at least during the hours he worked on these drawings, makes it possible for me to see their loveliness and depth. Accepting what they were — how their failure was all in me, and not in his intention — enabled me to drop them off that afternoon, to look forward to showing them to you, to knowing I could tell this story without doom or pity, and that I could go back to admiring his eye and hand again, as it should be. The works were re-imbued with the normal mystery that it needs to hold your eye, once my rational distaste had left.

So I stood in front of them last night, in my Mexican shawl and good boots, and shared with strangers: “My husband the artist made these drawings when he knew he was dying. They were hard for me to look at for a long time, but four years later, I can accept them and understand what they were saying. I just didn’t want to hear it then, but denial helped me stay sane, and I’m okay now.

"Yes, I’m doing well, thank you.”


Kim said...

Thank you for your honest and transparent writing that helps us see your world in such dimension. Beautiful.

Sue Gaff said...

You do write beautifully. Thanks for this. My husband was not an artist, but your insight helps me believe someday I will feel differently than I do now. Sue Gaff

Supa Dupa Fresh said...

Thank you, friends.
Kim, thanks for being such a light through creativity to so many.
Sue, yes, you will feel differently some day. From our correspondence I know you have a great spirit, while the road is long, you'll keep moving on it, and we'll be here for you as you need.

Carol Scibelli said...

Supa - This is the most revealing and beautifully written post - You have remarkable depth and honesty and that makes your writing irresistible.
I'm proud to know you.


Anonymous said...

Now THAT is what a therapist is for: making clear what was right in front of us the whole time; we just hadn't picked up on the pattern yet.
Reading this broke my heart even as I can tell it is coming from a place of strength tempered, made stronger, by bone-deep sadness.
Especially that one line "vaporizing in front of my eyes". We had a naturopath dr, the one who finally got to the root of Jeff's chronic debilitating fatigue, vague illnesses, weight loss, inability to work or do much of anything else. Oh. Cancer. Stage 4. That explains a lot.
I can remember calling the dr, a week or so before we finally got the diagnosis, and insisting we test further, because "I can see him slipping away from me before my very eyes." He was sicker then, before we knew, than he was any time after that, right up til the day he died. Hearing in your story the echo of that time brought me chills. Thank you so much for sharing your words, and his art, painful as it is.


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