Postmortem Paints

Memory as a medium: Using the supplies & tools of those who have passed away.

Not so very long ago, I was given a bin of memories. These memories existed in the shape of tools and materials, of pencils and paints, of stencils and aprons.

I have opened and re-opened the bin in the months after it was gifted, but I have only used a few of the memories. A touch of antique pewter paint here, a brush of phthalo blue to darken a shadow there.  The oils from the bin slowly worked there way into my own collection, one tube at a time, a slow leak. They dwell with my own oils, my little collection of favorite tints and shades, but I know which ones were his. They're compressed a different way. They're covered in little dobs of other colors and the occasional fingerprint, small indications of moments when cleanliness gave way to creativity in a rush of pigment.

Nearly a year and a half have gone by since my friends supplies were passed on to me by his still grieving family. An unexpected death. A failure of the heart in a man who was too young for such a fate.

Marcus was an artist. The work he created, across a wide range of mediums, made other artists stop and consider what they had missed in their own work. His pieces inspired such passion in others that at one point several of his works were sabotaged with turpentine on the classroom drying racks. I can only assume that someone was so moved by their inability to understand how he had captured such clarity, that they could only destroy it. 

His were works of reflection and shadow. Creations to highlight the complexity in a seemingly simple collection of objects, the subtle pattern of sun and trees on snow, how a few flicks of minimalist color could convey a rolling grassland and sky.  His quiet nature crept into the work like a afterthought.

Our paths crossed during the undergraduate years but a friendship didn't solidify years later, at a time when avoidance of paint was my self inflicted punishment for my imagined lack of adult responsibility. We reconnected near the end of my seven year paint embargo, years of practice and creativity bottled up and neatly cemented behind a wall in my mind. He encouraged me to pick up the brush again, to let it out, to push it further.  He chipped away at the wall, patient, steady, in tiny palette-knife sized chunks, until the need to paint was running free again.  It was done so subtly that I didn't even notice it until the piles of canvas collected over the years had shadow images on them, silently begging for line and color.

And then, in one phone call, he was gone.  Leaving me with a head swirling in painting concepts and plans for graduate school, a heart full of reminders, a bin full of memories and the urge to make art. 

To create.  To express.  To let it out.

Marcus was always there if you needed him, sometimes before you realized it, like a force of nature on your side.  He would hand-build tiny frames in the middle of the night and drop them by because you mentioned wanting to paint tiny watercolors a week before in passing.  He would stop by to get a coffee with you and end up spending half a day helping to paint reflections on bits of a giant mural project you had been struggling with for months.  He would invite you over and make you shots of espresso while talking art theory and planning the next plein air painting trip.

He isn't always in my head, but when he is, it's not sorrow that brings him.

When I paint, I paint with memories instead of pigments.