Man can hardly even recognize the devils of his own creation. – Albert Schweitzer
More often than not, the characters hidden in the splatters and stains I see on the sidewalk communicate to me immediately who they are. They also insist with a certain amount of urgency that I run home and paint them without delay. The devil In this water stain from an early morning rain that fell in late March 2020, for instance.
Though I did hurry home and waste no time sketching the contours of what I believed to be a little devil walking on his tiptoes, art had another vision for the creature: a soft-colored, gentle-looking siren with a tremendous head of hair.
Sirens, like devils, are magical beings capable of great evil. In classical Greek mythology, however, they were associated with hidden knowledge. I had my devils. Not just one, and certainly not the screamingly obvious kind with the evil eye and the pointy horns dressed in a menacing red that I insisted on committing to paper the day after painting Sirène. My devils weren’t only just then arriving sneakily on the scene, either; they were already there, so deeply rooted in the fabric of my being as to be hidden from my sight. Art brought them to the surface. In Sirène, they show up as two bulls and a bird tangled up in my hair. In the piece Femme promenant son chien, ses oiseaux et sa petite baleine enragée, which I had painted less than a month before (see Art is a fortune teller, 5 February), they appear as multiple birds and an angry whale.
When I started painting in early 2020, I was suffering the pain of multiple, chronic health problems. For years, I had been attacking these problems from the outside with pills and creams and acupuncture needles. I’d spent tons of money and expended enormous amounts of time and energy trying to cure myself, but to no avail. In retrospect, this doesn’t surprise me. Though the problems had made their way to the surface of my physical body, the source of the trouble lay in the spiritual body, which I had been poisoning for years with devils of my own making: angry whales, flightless birds, and cumbersome bulls.
By the time my mother was diagnosed with stomach cancer in the spring of 2003, the original cancerous cells had already spread to surrounding organs. The surgeon who would save her life had a two part-plan. First, he would bring all the poisonous cells back to their source in the stomach. Second, he would extract the stomach, thereby killing the cancer.
When considering the three other devil-themed paintings I made in the weeks following Sirène, I see how art, like my mother’s surgeon, had laid out a plan of action to help me restore the health of my physcial body. Though I had multiple devils inhabiting my soul, they could all be traced back to a specific instance of childhood trauma that I had never taken the time to process and put to rest. The mother devil, if you will. Art was going to help me gather all these devils together and fold them back into their mother.
It would help me hold it out at arm’s length to better observe it.
It would let me walk with it for a while to better understand it.
And then, with the help of a little hunting dog named Sophie who would come into my life the following spring, art would help me put that demon to death.