These paintings are part of a larger series I’ve been working on to try to come to terms with loss after loss of so many people who were important and dear to me. I had a lot of false starts, searching for a way to make images that might evoke the complexity of feelings swirling in the wake of so much death. Is it even possible to encapsulate and concretize the acute sadness, disorientation, and longing that comes with grief?
I made a list of all the people who have passed in my life, dozens of lovely, complicated people, and I set out to make one painting representing each person. It did not take long for me to see that this direction would not work. My paintings were too literal. Too narrative. How could this be? Our relationships are so personal, so private, twisting and turning with the nuances of an inside joke or a moment of deep silent connection. Why was it so difficult to depict these precious attachments using color, shape, and form?
I began to find my way with my paintings when I let go. Marks became looser, softer, more ambiguous . . . open, it seemed, to a less earthbound reality. And while I had thought that each painting’s title would honor each person by name, the word Spirit emerged, and then I was on my way. Blithe Spirit, Kindred Spirits, Free Spirit, and Spiriting Away speak to the duality of our spiritual natures. Maine Arts Journal’s notion of Marks and Tracks is apt: We are ethereal beings in a material world, leaving Marks and Tracks with our work, our families, and the countless memories of everything carried forward by the living.
I had been bewildered to find that the older I got, the more difficult it was to accept the transience of all things. It’s not as if I had only recently turned toward this truth. When I was a young girl, my father always made a point to tell me, “this is not a dress rehearsal,” and I understood the urgency of his message. This moment . . . that’s really all we have. What do we choose to do? To say? To aspire to be? Each choice adds to the accumulation that becomes who we are. Each minuscule or grand gesture contributes to the whole compost pile of our lives.
So how can we live with ease, as we flow through the river of Life and Love and Loss? Making images helps. And as my watercolor paintings showed me, so much hinges on knowing when to hold on and when to let go.
Image at top: Marcie Jan Bronstein, Spiriting Away, watercolor and salt on paper, 9 x 9 in., 2021.