Blue, blue, my world is blue
Blue is my world now I’m without you.
Gray, gray, my life is gray
Cold is my heart since you went away.
The Manetti Shrem Museum of Art at UC Davis has been hosting a month-long program called ArtBites. Once a week, folks who sign up for the program go to the museum and traipse as a group to one of the pieces currently on exhibit. We sit, like elementary students, on low stools and the curator guides us with questions through an exercise in seeing.
This week, I felt raw when I walked out of the museum.
The curator had chosen an assemblage, which reminded me — not in content, but in style — of a dear friend from those days when I was striving to be an artist. Not an artist as I am now — one who paints for the pleasure of creating images, but an artist whose work is exhibited, viewed by an audience and sold. I found myself longing for the hours we spent in conversation, longing for his creative imagination which was large enough to engage a second set of hands (mine), longing for the community of fellow artists he created with his amazing goodness.
“Goodness” is probably an odd choice of words to use when speaking about an artist. While the word is often found in spiritual literature, artists are usually praised for the work of their hands, not for their character, not for the way in which they walk in this world. I could just as easily — perhaps more easily — write of the amazing work he has created over the years, but at the Shrem this week, I was missing his friendship.
I was missing the sense of rightness I experienced in my life when we were together — not just the two of us, but the whole coterie of artists his temperament drew together. The path I tread at that point in my life was not well-traveled, but it was comfortable and it was mine — so completely mine that every path since has felt like a search for the treasure of that authentic moment. I’ve learned to put one foot in front of the other. I have experienced joy in other activities, but the longing to belong again as I did then has never left me.
At the Shrem, I pulled my stool back, away from the assemblage, because I was afraid I would cry if I sat too close. I didn’t expect that kind of homesickness to wash over me in this contemporary museum — so new the inaugural exhibit is still up. I didn’t expect it to blindside me while looking at works by California artists; my friend’s work is so solidly rooted in his Midwestern ag background. (What in the world do beads — or were they pool balls? — have to do with the price of grain, hunger and the impact of GMOs on the human body?)
When I pulled my stool back, I created a space in the line of stools which another woman quickly filled. Initially, I thought she stood and moved to stand directly in front of me, blocking my view entirely with her ass — flat as it was, it still blocked my view, in order to see a part of the piece she could not see from her location. However, since she remained there, I was forced to move or to be excluded from the experience offered by the Shrem. I took her seat.
In her seat, I could read the words scrawled across the bottom of the assemblage. One phrase struck me: “Love is Blue.” About the time the work was created, one of the pop hits was a song by that name. I commented on this, and Flat Ass challenged me, saying there was no way of knowing that. I wanted to say, ‘I can read the date on the label, and I happen to remember that time in my life quite well (bitch).’ Instead, I pulled out my phone, googled the song, and provided the information which confirmed my observation.
As I sit here now, I wonder if that little verbal spat didn’t take us in the wrong direction. On the canvas portion of the assemblage were spheres, each with a single dot, which suggests they could have been beads from a broken string. Some were dark blue, some were lighter blue and some were white. We were told the number of spheres was equal to the artist’s age at the time the work was created. What if the color of the sphere indicated a year in his life lived without someone he loved?
I also wonder, though, about the symbolism of the woman filling the space I left vacant. Isn’t that what happens in life — what is supposed to happen in life? When one person moves, another fills that person’s place. Why, then, could I not push away the loneliness I felt participating in that exercise as I pushed the museum’s over-sized door to leave? Do some people leave a space which cannot be filled?
I texted my friend before returning to work. I don’t do this often, because nearly 20 years have passed since we worked together on a project, and our paths have diverged. But in that moment, I ached for what will never again be.