Through these past months of holiday revels I've been thinking back to another holiday, exactly five years ago, when my life came to an abrupt crossroads and the seeds were planted for what is being now reaped.
Five years ago I went to Oaxaca, Mexico for 3 weeks surrounding Christmas. My ex-husband and I were living in our solar and wood powered cabin, deep in the Maine woods, and we left the cold, dark, desolate winter for our last adventure together in that beautiful, vibrant southern Mexico city at the edge of the Sierra Madre del Sur. The trip did nothing to reconcile the relationship, but it did leave a deep sensory and emotional impression on me. Perhaps my mind was exceptionally open as deep questions concerning my destiny and future reverberated in my consciousness. The light and sound and smells and colors of that sojourn are burned into my memory. I remember standing alone in the hushed afternoon light of the echoeing, cavernous Cathedral off of the Zocalo, admiring the gilded icons of unfamiliar saints. I also spent many hours alone among the columned walkways and stone chambers of the old monastery, which is now an art and cultural artifact museum, admiring Mexican treasures unearthed from the nearby ruins of Monte Alban. At this same museum I was introduced to some of the Mexican masters of pigment of the 20th century, like Rufino Tamayo, Siquieros, Orozco and I saw my first works in person by Diego and Frida. On Christmas day I climbed alone through the teeming marketplace of religious decorations and squash blossom empanadas to visit the Basilica de la Soledad, dedicated to the patron saint of Oaxaca, Nuestra Senora de La Soledad (Our Lady of the Solitude.) I had many moments of mental solitude on that trip as I considered my rapidly changing life, often while pressed against groupings of jubilant Mexican families at various processions and holiday events. Perhaps it was lucky that I was where I was because Our Lady of the Solitude is supposedly there for us at just such times of questions, to be with us and guide us in the moments where we feel alone and despair.
Back in that cavernous cathedral, admiring the beauty of the commanding icon of a dark saint decorated with exquisite gold filigree and placed high on the wall above my head, I was thinking about what is sacred to me. I didn't know these saints, and though I attended regular worship for many years, I was never touched by the sacred in a church. I thought back to those Maine woods that I had left behind, and to all of the living web that surrounded me there in perfect ecological grace. That was my church, and the fox, the vole, the owl, the chipmunk, the moss, the grub, the luna moth et al. Those are my saints, bringing me strength and wisdom and hope and solace and guidance when I am in need. And like the icon painters of old, I feel the desire to glorify them in image. It's a fairly puny offering and it's the least that I can do.
It was during this trip that I said aloud for the first time that I wanted to be a painter. Those weeks in Oaxaca, through those moments of solitude and in the speaking of my heart's desire my life was incontrovertibly changed and set on its new course. My heart had quickened with joy and excitement looking at the paintings of the Mexican masters in the old monastery, crystallizing my aspirations. In the cathedral, with the desire to create art glorifying my own version of the sacred came to me a new purpose. I also said that I wanted to live in Oaxaca and be a painter, and obviously part of my wish hasn't come through. But rather miraculously, part of it has. It was a long journey from the city of Oaxaca to where I sit now at the edge of Los Angeles. It took almost 3 years from the end of that trip before I even re-acknowledged my conviction to paint, and then even more deliberation before I got the courage up to take the first steps down that path. It's hard to completely change gears in one's life and career, especially around the age of 30 with a fairly large and needy family and limited resources. I couldn't do it without support. There are sacrifices to be made, and I live in near complete uncertainty every day as to how this life path is going to work. But I am overjoyed that I have made it this far. I have gained enough skill and time and tools to begin to paint, and even to paint icons! To glorify and thank that which is sacred to me. The images that I imagined so many years ago are actually coming into being, so I must thank Soledad, and all my other saints, known or as yet undiscovered for helping me get this far.
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This is space for reflections and backstory on and of the images that are created for AnimaliaArt and the endeavors of this small artistic undertaking created and authored by me, Jessica Rhys.