Cut to the Heart
You know how listening to music can bring forth memories, that join together?
Art can bring forth the same magic, where you were, with whom, when and how you were affected. Art is more than just a picture, it leaves you with a montage of memories, the best to be milked when hearing the artist’s name, or a reproduction in a book.
My memory chest of art is a map of my adult life in art, crossed with my personal life. A marriage of wonder and warmth, sadness and ill.
Though I’d been drawing since grade school, I fell away from it, taking a still-loved interest in literature and writing. Then friends, boys, jobs and finally college fell in line, with literature at the top. The second year, looking for an elective in the college catalog, art popped up.
After years of absence, art entered my life again. This time, to stay.
Pumped up, I went to my first exhibit at the Detroit Institute of Art, featuring the German Expressionist, Kathe Kollwitz. I had done woodcuts back in public school and was curious to see a master’s work.
What I saw floored me. Passion, love, misery, rawness. The bare bones. I wanted to have that fulfillment, that letting go of the best and worst of life. The bluntness of the cuts, the dark smears of ink, the haziness of style. A wonder is the image above: “Woman with Dead Child”, an etching, created 1903.
I had been painting nudes for some time, finding comfort and life in the abundant female folds of flesh, and the core quiet of male strength. But Kollwitz experienced the horror of war, the love and loss of family, the contrary bittersweetness and exhausting drollness of being a mother. At that point, I had a daughter, a safe family, living in suburban ease.
But I was sensitive to life. As a child, my parents took me to my first movie, “Ben-Hur”. Filled with deathly action, blood, and cruelty. I was mortified for weeks. Later, I couldn’t watch a war movie without leaving the theater, shaking. And my heart beat fast when I tutored in the Detroit projects, the families grateful for any help for their children.
I am one of the Kollwitz children. At least as an artist. Woodcuts are a soft spot for me, as is the human figure, though models aren’t as available to me as I’d like. But the woodcut, it cuts deep.