Lessons from An Old Haitian Woman

The following is a post that I wrote back in May of 2012 about a painting that had been working on. I never finished the painting at the time and came across it again a couple of weeks ago all rolled up in a storage tub. So I got it stretched back out and finally finished it so I wanted to share my thoughts on the painting again now that I can share the finished product. Although I am certainly at a much different place now with my art, more energized, more committed, this woman still reminds me of what it takes to keep my soul fed.

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I’ve been working on this painting.  It’s of a very old Haitian woman.  She’s the oldest person that I’ve ever painted.  I’m used to painting children, so it’s a big step for me to even attempt to paint her, but ever since I saw her and found this photo, I was inspired to paint her.  It’s been a long time since I’ve been so intrigued by someone that I’ve been that drawn to translate them into a painting.  It’s the first painting that I’ve done for a long time for myself, for the pleasure of painting.  And the act of painting her has been exactly that, a pleasure.  Her skin is so marvelously wrinkled, her head wrap is placed upon her fine white hair with such dignity, and her arm is resting upon this large, cold, solid, form of concrete in such as way as to suggest that without the concrete her frail body would simply collapse.  I’ve been taking pleasure in every detail of the visual story she wants to tell.

Every day, as I work on her, and see her evolve, and spend time with her, she speaks to me.  Most nights my roommates see me sitting in front of the easel with her canvas on it and they’ll say “You’re meeting with your old woman again?”  And I’ll respond, “Yes, I’ll be to bed in a few minutes.  I just need to sit here and talk to her for a while.”  (It’s nice to have roommates that understand, or at least accept, my crazy artist behavior.)  She’s been teaching me very much about painting, not just the physical act, but also about what the spiritual act of painting means for me emotionally and mentally.

This woman is tired.  She’s weary from life and struggling to hold firm to the dignity that she’s maintained for so many years.  She’s overwhelmed and somewhat downtrodden.  Although she’s still fully aware of all that is good in life, smiling about it just seems like it may be too much work anymore.  She’s been through so much and has a lifetime of stories to tell, but she may not spend her breath to tell you them.  You simply have to look into the deep slits in the middle of her face behind all the wrinkles where her dark eyes lie and you can see the stories for yourself.

During the process of this work I have realized that I am her.  I am tired and weary and searching for something solid to support me and hold me up.  This is why this woman and I have been spending so much time together.  We understand where each other is at right now.  But this woman has also taught me why I am so tired and perhaps the remedy to my fatigue.  I have not been painting, and when I don’t paint, I get tired.  Finding myself through painting is what gives me energy.  It’s what gives me motivation to live.  When I’m in the states, with constant electricity, I can stay up all night and never get tired as long as I’m painting.  Even if I’m busy all day doing other work, as long as I know that later I’ll be before my canvas with the brush in my hand, that knowledge is what keeps me going.  But if I have no inspiration to paint, the rest of my life loses steam much quicker.

I’ve always known this truth, at least subconsciously, that my soul needs the act of painting to remain vital.  But sometimes life gets in the way of things and I forget that truth.  Lately, this woman has been reminding me.  I can’t expect to keep going at life a hundred miles an hour if I don’t slow down and take the time to interpret and express what I live through my art.  If I don’t do that, then it won’t be long before I find myself in the same situation as my old lady, still able to put on a fierce head wrap to let everyone know I ain’t dead yet, but just too darn tired to smile.

This woman has inspired me to paint again and I’m getting back into the groove.  I hope that I can remember the lessons that she’s taught me when life gets busy and carry through.  I feel like I owe it to her because she won’t have that chance again to be young and throw herself into her passion.  Now I thank her for the moments that we passed together and I hope that I make her proud.  I’m not quite finished with her, but when I am, I will post an image of the painting.

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3 thoughts on “Lessons from An Old Haitian Woman

  1. you really are blessed to have a gift, a craft, a skill that feeds your soul and requires you to slow down from the “distractions” of life in order to come back to yourself and let your brushes speak. I only glimpse that state of being that allows you to lose yourself in creating and imagining. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and for sharing the “old lady”

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  2. that is a wonderful story and that painting is beautiful, Your work reflects your very soul, painting feeds that soul ,don’t ever stop. I love it. thanks for sharing that.

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  3. I was looking for paintings that portray the intrinsic dignity of a person because of their very being which they cannot lose despite the loss of extrinsic dignity and out of a page of images, I was drawn to your painting. Your comments confirmed that I was looking at a soulful painting that reflects contemplating an aspect of life I have recently been pondering. I am blessed to encounter your painting. Thank you for sharing and may you continue to paint and reveal the truth of existence.

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