In 2009….I lost everything dear to me; my husband, home, art, dog, books, furniture etc. I abruptly found myself unmoored, untethered and navigating in the dark.
How I wished I had equivalent skills to the Polynesian navigators who memorize important facts: the motion of specific stars, where they would rise and set on the horizon of the ocean; weather and the seasons of travel; wildlife species (which gather at particular positions); the direction, size and, speed of ocean waves; colors of the sea and sky, especially how clouds would cluster at the locations of some islands; and angles for approaching harbors. *
Was it premonitory that just before everything fell apart I had written on my Facebook page: “Robin is now entering the Realm of the Starry Night.”
I have been painting in an improvisational manner for many years. I do not have a concept in mind when I begin a piece. From the time I thrum the courage to put down the first mark on canvas the painting becomes an improvised dance. A pas de deux between my inner and outer selves. Between spontaneity and painterly knowledge, between logic and risk, dark and light, wrangling and grace.
And, now when everything was rawly unfamiliar, unpredictable, no home, no income, living with wrenching grief, I was forced to not just make art in the studio but to see my life as art, applying the same principles. the willingness to continually leap across abyss after abyss, to not know where I would be from week to week, day to day, hour to hour, sometimes even moment to moment. I had to hone the improvisational skills of knowing when to stay or when run, whether to boldly leap or take tentative steps. When to hang on tight or release. When to pull out my six-shooters or to quietly back away.
I believe that although I have been kicking and screaming most of the way, that my deeper self, my Soul Self, knew all along what I truly needed to come ‘Home’ and has been putting me through the proverbial wringer, to squeeze out whatever is not authentic. Whatever is delusional. The sand on which I built my life.
A friend told me she saw me as being chiseled, like a marble sculpture and with each sharp and painful blow, the whatever was not me was being cut away to eventually reveal my hidden beauty.
When I began painting again last winter it was like coming home. Art has always and continues to be my salvation, my medicine. It is my reflecting pool that mirrors what is true for me in the moment and it cannot be fooled.
By Robin Sierra
So, now I am come full circle, lost myself to find my self, lost my art to find it has always been with me, as my life itself.
Words and Paintings by Robin Sierra
Art and Words by Robin Sierra
The family couch in the house where I grew up had cushions that were squashed flat by the weight of my father’s despair He lay down for days that turned into years. There were times when I would peer into his darkened bedroom, terrified that he might not be breathing. Once, in my desperation, I went into his room, grabbed his arm and tried to pull him out of bed. In addition to leaving a lasting indentation on the couch, his experience left a huge dent in my psyche. Through his depression, I learned that when life gets difficult, the only response is to give up and lie down and withdraw from those around you.
And although I was blessed that my mother loved me even before I was born, she also struggled with being overwhelmed by life. I have a memory of myself around 5 or 6 years old of my parents getting ready to leave the house and me running out to the car curling in a ball, trying to hide in the back seat. They had to drag me out of the car while I was sobbing, feeling a deep desperation. I had no words or understanding, only raw emotional panic.
It was only many years later I found out that at that time my mother was suicidal. She was seeing a psychiatrist in the 50’s, which was quite unusual back then, so obviously, she was teetering on an edge. She had migraine headaches everyday I can remember and life in general caring for my sister and I was just too much for her.
Before all of this entered my life I was basically a very happy, creative little girl. I got straight A’s and loved to be in front of the class leading the kids in song on my Autoharp and was always the teacher’s favorite. But when my father plummeted into severe depression, something deep shifted in me. My mental capacities diminished and my grades went way down and I couldn’t concentrate because I was full to the brim with psychological pain that was not being acknowledged in any way. I was skinny, skinny and unable to gain weight because there was a constant knot in my stomach and I continued to suck my thumb into my teen years. In other words, I was a wreck. I had incorporated the densely dark and anxiety-laden feeling in my home and took it on as my identity.
My first experience in realizing that I may be an artist was when I screwed up the courage to take a figure drawing course in my first year of college. I drew with one arm circling around the drawing so no one could see what I was doing because I took for granted that it would be awful. But when there was a break, I walked around the room and by looking at the other student’s drawings; I was astonished to recognize that I was making a beautifully executed drawing.
When I finally made the decision to leave home at 21, I was completely unprepared to deal with the world. I didn’t even know how to do my laundry or write a check. When you grow up with mentally ill parents they are so saturated in their own suffering that they cannot ‘see’ their children clearly. They believed, only because they needed to, that we were two happy little girls. They had no idea that I was being so deeply impacted by their anguish. And, because they were so flooded with their own pain they neglected to teach me the basics of how to function in life.
I left Los Angeles, which I was chomping at the bit to escape from, and went to the top of California, near the Oregon border to Humboldt County. (Yes, we all know what Humboldt is famous for) I felt like I had ‘come home’. Being a person for who nature was imperative, L.A. was not a match for me. There I began an inner journey of meditation and coming to terms with my childhood.
One day, I decided to peruse the University campus in Arcata. I walked into the art building and when I saw the art on the walls in the hallways, I again was astonished in seeing and knowing that I would be good at making art. So, I immediately enrolled in college as an art major. Here is one of the first watercolors I made. I had no idea what I was doing. Actually started from the left top corner and worked my way diagonally across the page with no planning ahead.
My gratitude for the gift, the talent I was given is tremendous because my head was still so clouded and overloaded with unresolved emotions that I couldn’t think clearly. But art was a different story. I had a razor sharp focus when I was making art and, I had something in my life I could actually ‘see’ that I was good at. This may have been the biggest turning point in my life because I can’t imagine what would have become of me if I had not made what I now call my ‘choiceless choice’ to be an artist. I truly believe art saved my life.
I was 22 at the time and now many decades later, although I spent years clearing the emotional trauma I inherited, and have a mind that works very well which I am grateful for beyond words. I am still making art and it is still saving me.
I am intrigued by mysterious doorways, those where we can see only a glimpse of what lies behind or maybe we cannot see anything at all through the portal, only darkness….the mysterious unknown.
When we are at a significant juncture or crossroads, where life is calling us to transform ourselves in a profound way, there is most often a tendency to pause at the threshold with caution before we consider stepping through. And we may choose to not step through at all because the unknown is quite often frightening to us. Change is frightening for humans and we usually make ‘sea changes’ only when we are forced or pushed into them by life itself.
It is at this threshold or edge where we pause and fearfully tremble while we contemplate whether to step through or not. And rightfully so. (more…)