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Art Therapy

by Mark Peres

December 7,2008

I stood looking at the sketch of an arm over a head with a hand stretching the side of an aging face. Drawn in large scale and meticulous detail, the subtractive charcoal sketch showed a self-portrait of the artist – someone deeply exploring the crenulations of the flesh. I had come across it randomly, having gone to the McColl Center for Visual Art for an entirely different reason. I folded my arms, turned to the side, blown away at was required to move idea to surface. Here was art by someone I didn’t know (Bailey Doogan) that pressed the pause button of my life and reminded me of the best of who we are. 

In troubled times, we have this grace to rekindle creativity. We can reveal our anxieties, express conflict, press down on our dark bruises. The faces around us know our struggles and show them in their tears. 

We’ve always been amateur artists at home. When I was a child, my mom had an easel in the middle of our small apartment living room, painting not quite proportional wooden sailing ships on stormy waters or landscapes of misty mountains. She would frame them in kitschy un-matching frames, finding them beautiful. She painted a strange cat wearing a top hat, with no irony whatsoever. My mom would also draw sketches of John Kennedy (who had mythic resonance for my mom as a fellow Catholic), and once she drew Richard Nixon. She drew him with kindness as immigrants are apt to do – despite his sins, he was President of America after all. 

As a young teenager, I would fill my notebooks with sketches of profiles of my classmates or variations on the Miami Dolphins logo. I attended art classes, working on religious and erotic imagery, working out the swirling symbiotic tension between the two that has the teenage mind in its thrall. I drew illustrations to accompany my first stories, stumbling with technique – stories about Captain Kirk and drawings of the Enterprise going boldly among the stars. I kept an action figure of Spock by me as I sketched. 

My mother paints to this day, living alone in a beige mid-rise with a sliver of a view of the ocean across a busy street in Miami Beach. As buildings are built blocking her view, she can just make out a sailboat in the distance that helps her bring not quite proportion to her latest hopeful masterpiece. She listens to Dean Martin or Rosemary Clooney, and often to the Brazilian melodies of Antonio Carlos Jobim or Joao Gilberto. The full moon is high in the glimmering night sky, and saudade – the inherent bittersweetness of life is in the air. 

In my home in uptown Charlotte, in this new digital age, we have one television and one computer that the family negotiates to use. The rest of the house is analog. We have black and white photographs on the wall, framed original Victorian-age posters, and a loft filled with magazines, articles, colored pencils, sketch books, oil paint, architectural drawings and art projects hanging by clothes pins on wire off a wall. And yes, there is an easel in the corner with, as I sit here today, a drawing of a cat. My wife, daughter and I share the space, making a mess, as we talk through the events of the day. In the background is the music of Bob Dylan or Johnny Cash, occasionally interrupted by the Jonas Brothers. 

We live in this interregnum in history, this period between text and screen. We are in the final days of manipulated words, chapters, indices, and endnotes, and are headlong into an ubiquity of pixels and visual vocabulary. We are birthing a touch screen world where every surface will be animated with electronic images, subject to our fingertips as we pull and squeeze and stretch whatever our minds can map into weather reports. We are all creators now – Adam and God on the Sistene Chapel, in their dance of will, forming the universe with all that Genesis promises and warns. 

Such is this life – but I wouldn’t trade it as I’m surrounded by all the therapy in the world.

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