“Isn’t it such incredible symmetry,” I wrote, “that right now you and I are on opposite sides of the planet, trying to believe in ourselves?”
“Paint that,” she wrote back.
“Chances” is my first work on canvas, and represents the exact moment of professional transition to becoming a fine artist. As I write this, it is zooming towards me in a pizza box. Literally, because it didn’t fit in my suitcase, I had to ship it.
Like everything in my life now, its source can be traced back to my revelatory experience in front of the Mona Lisa in the Louvre. This was the moment that the western world’s greatest work of art looked at ME at a moment of absolute, abject failure. Mona Lisa observed me in my pathetic condition and said in her indulgent way “well, you’re not so great and you’re not so bad either. You’re exactly as I made you and I love you exactly as you are. If you like, I will tell you the secret to great art. However, if I tell you, you will have to make some.” I agreed, and she told me.
It was such a powerful moment that I had to concede as a lifetime atheist that perhaps there was some purposeful design to the universe. Even though it is impossible for me to know for sure, in that moment I chose to live my life as if I believed… as an experiment. After all, how could I ever be sure of anything unless there was some evidence for it? My incredulity remains a central aspect of my character and will always remain as a form of protection against the constant abuse of the power of belief that humanity is so vulnerable to. Yet I can say, although it’s not clear exactly how, that acting as if I believe is virtually the same as believing.
The Mona Lisa then sent me straight to hell. Which is another story for another time. Let’s just say that it brought out the worst in me. This is what they call integrating the shadow, an essential process for healers to understand viscerally. Needless to say, it is unpleasant to face the most terrible aspects of yourself honestly. Which is how I found myself, a year later, walking into a tiny little hole in the wall bar in East London, feeling very sorry for myself.
Across the bar from me was the most enchanting vixen I had ever seen. She had a wild head of curls and a gap between her two front teeth and as she mixed my virgin cocktail for me, I found myself spilling my guts to her. I had done a very bad thing, I admitted.
“Ah,” Gabriella said, handing my drink to me with a smile not unlike the Mona Lisa’s. “Well, you know the villain is a sacred role.”
The the muddle herbs and lime mixed with this acknowledgement of my essential rascality was a taste of redemption. As I drank she told me that she too had a revelatory experience - however, hers was with Mary Magdalene. And much like me she had received a divine assignment to create an ambitious work of art. One that was also testing her to break through her blockages by confronting her darkness. It was clear that proceeding was contingent on our ability to heal ourselves so we could do the work unrestricted. This wasn’t easy work to say the least however our commitments to our respective representatives were not negotiable.
On reflection, it’s interesting how Mona Lisa spoke to me and Mary Magdalene spoke to Gabriella, and how appropriate that is for our characters. It is apparent that when God speaks to you, they speak to you through the representative that you’re most likely to listen to. The Mona Lisa appeals to my intellectual nature, and my moral centre which is truth. Mary Magdalene appeals to Gabriella’s sensual nature, and her moral centre which is love.
Another year passed. Amazing things happened that year. I healed my heart and found a tremendous capacity to love and forgive. However I had found a secondary blockage in my will. My ability to believe in my purpose and my work was compromised, and as a result my attempt to establish a studio failed. Once again I was forced to confront a heavy blockage. Frustrated, I had to put all of my equipment and supplies in a storage unit. Unsure of what to do next, I decided to go to Brooklyn.
Once again I was abject. I knew that I had to become the artist, that I had to attempt my first works on canvas. But I could barely get out of bed. Instead I’d put on my makeup and then wrap myself up in the duvet like I was inside of a cocoon and cry mascara stains onto the pillowcase. There was no way I could be a great artist, I thought. This experiment of trusting in the universe was a kind of madness. Is following the instructions of a talking painting insane? What was I doing? It was in this state that I looked at Gabriella’s profile where she had posted a beautiful video of her in Bali, dancing passionately, on her birthday.
I sent her a birthday blessing and thanked her for sharing her exquisite wiggle with the world. She asked me how I was and I said not so hot, and then she admitted that she too was crying all of the time; she was heartbroken at the difficult end of a relationship. So there we were, connected through the core of the Earth by the internet, both of us so sad.
She told me I should paint us on opposite sides of the planet. Which I agreed to. And then she also insisted that I should not be alone in my room. I should find a circle of women, she said. This I shrugged off a bit. I’m not in the habit of seeking out groups of people.
“What do you think self love is?” Gabriella asked.
“Giving yourself the chance to fuck up,” I replied.
So the next morning I dutifully put my coat on and walked to the art supply store and bought a blank canvas and some acrylic paint and paintbrushes. On the way back, I happened to see an amazing mural of the Mona Lisa - except she had Cardi B’s face! She was radiant in the sunlight, this Schmona Lisa. And she was looking towards a coffee shop across the street, so I decided to go in and get a proper Millennial breakfast, that is of course a latte and avocado toast.
There was only one seat left in the cafe, beside this waterfall, so I asked the woman there if I could sit with her and she said yes. Right away she asked me about the canvas and we started talking about creating art and getting over our fears. She worked in the film industry as an editor however she wanted to do something that she felt would help improve the world. It was hard to find time because her hours were so long and unpredictable.
“Bless you you’re more optimistic than I am,” I said. “Honestly I’m feeling pretty hopeless about the world these days.” She agreed that things did seem very troubling but she believed that changes could occur. We discussed a bit about what it would take to make change; and we agreed that the quality needed was courage. And where did courage come from? It was an interesting question.
“You know,” she said. “I have a list of amazing women that I’d love to get together, like for an art project or something.”
“Really?” I said. “Like a circle?” and I found myself saying “Well if you have the women, I have the time. We can help each other.”
Sandra got up and gave me a hug, the first hug I’d had in over a week of isolation. I teared up a bit.
Then I went home and painted Chances. It was a departure from my previous work in three ways. One, it was on canvas and not paper. I had actually never used a canvas before in my life. Two, it used colour, a drift between my two favourite colours, a warm peach and a deep midnight blue. If you follow my work you know that I rarely do background colours or any environmental elements. With no colour mixing experience I just attacked the canvas and somehow it came out exactly as I’d imagined it. Three, it was done entirely from imagination and not life as is my custom, although I did refer to the video by Gabriella.
This art is a unification of truth and love, a reconciliation of the instinctive wild woman with the rational civilized one.
I was totally pleased with it although I did feel less certain about Gabriella’s scenery than I did my Brooklyn street. It looks pretty obvious to me that I have never, ever been to a jungle. I posted it on the internet and it immediately got an enthusiastic reaction. People loved it! How was it that I had waited so long to take on a canvas?
Within a day I got an email from a major luxury department store. They wanted me to do a painting for their magazine, in the same style as Chances. The subject? A woman in her thirties who has chosen to live alone and is very much enjoying it. It seemed like magic. I would get paid to manifest a vision of my future studio.
Of course things tend to zig zag. I had a vision of what the womXn’s circle would be - it was going to be called MiZTAKES. Through another series of synchronicities, I found the perfect gallery space for it at a very good rate. All of this expansion was making Sandra nervous. She didn’t like the idea of asking attendees for money, and she was worried that what I was going to do - create a process through which people could viscerally feel the true sensation of courage - was not going to work. She had so many doubts. I didn’t want to argue with her about it, or try to persuade her that she was wrong. In the spirit of belief, I told her that I would take on all of the responsibility for the event - the costs, the losses if there were any. She didn’t have many days available so I booked the gallery on a day that she would be available. Of course the next day she texted and said that she had to work. She was completely blocked out of the event.
Now I had committed to MiZTAKES on my own. So began the process of trying to gather my own group of womXn, a process I found to be very stressful. Much more stressful, in fact, than creating the design and content of the ceremony. Somehow I was granted total confidence in my ability to work with emotions, to reconcile the opposites of fear and courage into a unified whole. There was much less confidence in my ability to organize a group of people.
Meanwhile Gabriella was going through her own processes of heart healing in her own ways, through a passionate affair with a man. Oddly that man had the same name as the gallery that MiZTAKES was in.
The details of MiZTAKES are a whole other story, however the ceremony was successful in ways I never anticipated. There ended up being the perfect number of attendees for the size of the gallery, and the transformation of emotion was incredibly effective. Chances took its place in the centre of the circle. I had to name my greatest fear; that by pursuing my art and following the signs I would end up destitute, and not in a good way. At the end of the night, one of the attendees told me that she would like to be a collector of my work, commissioning a piece that will be called Trust. In this way, we will help each other find the courage to overcome our greatest fears.
How do you value a painting like Chances? Its numinous vibrance verified by the design of the universe. The secret of great art somehow contained within a physical object, the power to literally change lives. Much like the Mona Lisa, it seems obvious that this painting has a consciousness and a spirit of its own.