A Life Danced on the Lip of the World
My uncle Randy died in early February. He was only 65 and was found slumped over on the floor. A close friend of his said that he hadn’t been eating or showering in those last few days, only drinking. He was an alcoholic, but this is an art blog and I mean to stick to art as the topic. The language might drift into other themes, but only because they are relevant to the story.
My uncle Randy was a painter. All three of my uncles paint. My grandparent’s home was seeded with art painted by all three of them. The other two seemed to stop painting when work and family life called, but Randy painted his entire life. The other two uncles painted realism. Randy’s work was an expression of feelings. You see the realism, but you also understand how he felt about his subject. He had a lot to say. When I look at his art now, I see a delicate, expressive and confident line drawn with intent and care.
Many would say that he was a bohemian soul or a free spirit. Some would say he had joie de vivre and a fearless, relentless drive for new experiences. These are summations and they don’t even begin to illustrate who my uncle was. One of his oldest friends says, “Randy was like a shiny piece of sea glass among the sand of an ocean beach – he was unique and beautiful.” It’s true. Randy was everyone’s favorite. Yeah, he had a job like most people; and yeah, sure, he was probably tired afterwards; but he found time to express his spirit in the world. We all gravitated towards him and some of us, me included, absolutely worshiped him.
When I was very young, he acted in two specific theater pieces that I remember. One was about Blackbeard. He played a swashbuckling pirate. I remember the smile on his face during the scene. Are pirates supposed to smile? Why not? He also performed in Night of January 16th. He played an attorney - maybe the prosecuting one. I know he enjoyed himself. He was smiling the entire time.
My uncle was an extrovert for sure. He loved to laugh and throw parties. I “kind of” remember his high school graduation in 1975. Only kind of because I was four at the time. I remember dancing to the Beatles and David Bowie with him, cousins, and his friends. I remember a trip to Ocracoke Island when I was five. I was chewed up by sand fleas and they made me so sick, I vomited. I remember him wrapping me in a beach towel and saying that this adventure was too much for a little girl.
Summer of 1980 brought some hard changes to my life and I was an unhappy, lonely kid. Randy worked the second shift at National Spinning. His younger sister and I would sneak into his room, grab a few of his records and listen to them. We were so careful, being sure to put the records back EXACTLY where we found them right at 11pm – long before he came home from work. Well, how were we to know he would come home early one night? I swear this part is true: we were listening to Elton John’s Greatest Hits. Your Song was playing and he walked in right when Elton John was singing the chorus “… I hope you don’t mind, I hope you don’t mind.” Was he mad? I can’t remember, but I know we never did that again.
Warning: If you knew my uncle and listen to the song, you will burst into instantaneous tears. Even if you didn't know my uncle, you'll cry anyway because it's a beautiful song.
This is a more endearing story I want to share and more to the point of an art blog. One night he was at work, I grabbed his sketchbook, picked a random blank page towards the back of the book, and drew a picture. I didn’t think he’d find it until waaay later. He found it next day and sat down with me. He was enthusiastic and spoke about the picture I drew in loving terms. He said that he would save this and when I got to be his age, he would show it to me again. Yeah, it was a romantic idea and it never happened, but he did buy me a sketchbook of my very own.
He taught by example. The most important thing for an artist is to be working on art. It’s ok to think about art; it’s ok to look at art; it’s ok to read about art; but if you’re going to be an artist, you need to make art. You need to make a lot of it. He planned his day around making art. He came home from work, he took a nap, had dinner, and then he painted. That worked for him. What works for me is different. What will work for you will be yet different again.
Lately, I’ve been having reincarnation wishes for people who recently crossed over. For Randy though, I’m having a different feeling. I’d like to ask him a question and then give him a piece of advice. The question would be: When did you start painting? When did art first capture you? The advice would be (if he could have heard it) to show up healthy for your art. With a talent and spirit like his, sixty-five is way too young to die.
I'll be back next time with an update on Scout and the Space Cats and my own art. Karima at Castle in the Air generously allowed me the use her space and camera and lights for photographing the work. My first picture book will be a reality very soon.