In the past week, I have been finishing a mixed media painting for a friend. I had started work on it more than two and a half years ago, and then set it aside after working on it for some months. I had long claimed that I was “too busy,” but I think the truth is that I was too scared. I didn’t want to give my friend something that was less than “my best work,” and I was not in love with the painting.
But the reality is, this is the first time I have ever attempted something on this scale. So of course I hope that it is not my best work in the scope of my lifetime. I hope that as I learn and experiment, my later work will be better. But this is something better than my best work – it is my first work – the first time I was moved to attempt such a piece. It is inspired by my friend and her life, and every brushstroke and every found scrap of paper and other bits of collage are links in a chain of prayer for her, starting when she and her husband first separated and continuing through her return to work, her daughter entering kindergarten, the continued unraveling of the marriage and the certainty of divorce.
She has found her feet – she does not perhaps need the affirmation of change and new life that the painting represents. And perhaps this is why I have been able to pick it up again – because it can now be a celebration of arriving at the other side of all she has endured. Or perhaps I just ran out of excuses to leave it on the shelf. Or perhaps I finally understood that my perfectionism was holding me back, and remembered that my friend loves me too much to desire perfection from me – and that she has known me too long to expect it. Only those who the law would recognize as kin to me have seen me as bad off as she has seen me.
Am I giving her a canvas that the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts will be interested in acquiring from her? No, I am giving her my prayers for her – my prayers of September 2009-February 2010, and my prayers of this summer. I am concretizing my love for her to the best of my ability at the moment. Maybe that is the best work any of us can do for one another after all.