Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Many Hands, One Pulse

It was a challenge for me to figure out how I was going to start to move forward and heal from the horrific shooting that occurred at the Pulse nightclub here in Orlando. It affected me much more deeply than I would have thought. I was not emotionally able to go visit my friends at the vigils that occurred. It took a few weeks before I could even really talk about it, and I talk a lot.

A friend of mine, Thomas Thorspecken (Thor) of Analog Artist Digital World, organized an event on July 3rd - Orlando (United) Drink & Draw, in which several artists would gather together on an evening downtown and together sketch portraits of each of the 49 lost in the tragedy. I knew as soon as I heard about it that it would be a perfect thing for me to do. I was admittedly worried about how emotional I would be, but something told me that it would be a personal venue to process what happened and begin to heal.

The day after the shooting, I was beginning a week-long art camp, and my art students had created a work on Yupo Synthetic Paper that reminded me of how I felt. It looked like someone had cried tears all over a rainbow of colors. I was looking for a quotation that fit, and found the perfect one the day they made this....

“And tears came before he could stop them, boiling hot then instantly freezing on his face, and what was the point in wiping them off? Or pretending? He let them fall.”

It turned out to be a quote by J.K. Rowling from "Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince" "How perfect," I thought, as J.K. Rowling had personally paid tribute to one of the victims of the shooting because he worked on the Harry Potter ride at Universal Studios.

It was exactly how I felt. There is too much pretending. I had gone to church the day of the shooting and while everyone else around me was standing and professing the faith, I was on my knees sobbing and I just didn't care who was watching. I was done pretending. It seemed in one morning I was feeling my own load, then a flash of Christ's burden, and knew the sacrifice the victims had made, and I just chose to give up and trust that God would carry me that day. And I just cried. What was the point, of wiping them off....I let them fall.

So, in my first thoughts about working at the event, I decided I would work with watercolor on Yupo.  Like my students, I wanted to be able to flow with my thoughts freely, literally, without worrying about making a mistake.  I wanted my work to show the vibrance of the life in each person, and somehow bring them visually into a place that is better than here, and I knew that medium would do that for me. A few days into the thought process, I realized that I may have gotten in too deep with the cost, because I thought I may be responsible for at least half of the portraits, and that would be a big cost. I reached out to the Yupo company, who has been great on Facebook to acknowledge my work, and they offered a donation through their distributor Legion Paper. A week later I had 30 pounds of Yupo paper at my door, no questions asked. I knew that God was beginning to bless the effort truly.

So the evening of the event, I showed up at The Falcon downtown with my watercolor, brushes, and Yupo, and an open heart. But I would not nearly be ready for the unbelievable outpouring of energy that would surround me.

When Thor arrived, the owner of the establishment where we were gathered began writing on a marker board the names of the victims, and assigning artists to each one. I had seen a lot about each of the victims but learned more as the process happened that night.

The first name that I was given was Amanda Alvear. Each of the artists were to research the victims on our digital devices to get an image to work from. I looked up what I could find about her, and saw and amazingly beautiful young woman. I read that she was only 25, and loved her little nieces and brought them out shopping. I saw a snapchat she had taken inside the club and heard the gunshots ringing out. I read how she would not want hate spread from what had happened.

I could have read more, but a huge knot started up in my throat and I had to step outside and get some air. I decided to pray that God would bless my efforts. I knew I did not have long to complete things so I went back in and as I did, I saw that someone had painted the words, "We all have a pulse" on the sidewalk. Under the circumstances, this saying has many meanings, but to me, at the time, it represented the common energy of us all, living and deceased, and the connection between us.  As if to say, "We all have ONE pulse: together"......The electrical blood flowing through all of us.

I could feel it moving me forward and to work. It seemed to flow through my brush and on to the paper, one, two, three, four, five, and never stopped until my task was completed.

Amanda Alvear

There was something so bizarre about what was happening. So much energy, so much work. So many many people. The board would get filled up with victims' names, attached to an artist, completed, erased, and then more were begun. "Who is doing 39?" Was something you would have heard....Each life held in our hands and pencils and fingers and brushes. Too much responsibility to be sure. It must have been a million times worse for their doctors and nurses.

I moved around to a few different tables, and even a couch once, to get better light as the evening turned to night and my window spot turned dark. I read about each victim which I was assigned, one by one, fought back the urge to give up and cry, and kept going. Frank Hernandez, the beloved big brother. Akyra Murray, the youngest victim, a beautiful young woman just out of high school with a basketball scholarship. Luis Velma, the 22-year old with a terrific smile and amazing heart who worked at Universal Studios, and Jerald Arthur Wright, the handsome young man who worked at Disney. I don't have the words to give them the descriptions and honor they deserve.I just did my best at painting their smiles the best I knew how.

Frank Hernandez

Akyra Murray

Luis Velma

Jerald Arthur Wright

When I got to reading about Luis Velma it took me a lot to get past the familiar feeling of the night that I just wanted to think and cry. He was the victim that J.K. Rowling had paid tribute to.
And here I was, God was putting him in my hands, with the Yupo...I let my tears fall through my paint onto the Yupo. "What was the point then, of wiping them off? Or pretending?" I let them fall...

As the night wore on, artists came and went. We had figured 4 portraits per artist as things had started, but more artists came, some left, and we got all 49 accomplished. They were laid out on some tables near me, an incredible body of work. FORTY NINE. In one night. The vastness of the art was both a testimony to the vastness of the tragedy, and the energy and love of our artist community. And it was beautiful.

At the end of the night, I was finishing up the last portrait, and Thor and I left while my last two paintings were still wet at 1 am. It was surreal walking downtown to my car at that hour, holding the two wet paintings flat while Thor and I noticed how bright the sky was. A bright, royal blue color at 1 am with bright puffy white clouds, and it was so quiet on the streets. What time was it?..Had we stayed there till sunrise? I felt like I was holding two souls up in my hands, and I just had to keep walking,  no matter the time. I had to keep them safe.

Thor walked me to my car and I passed the paintings to his safe keeping. He carried them the rest of the way, and it was like a weight was lifted from me.

But I know, so much that we all are holding passing on the load of this and so much grief in this world, helping each other along the way. It feels here in Orlando since the shooting that a lot of us are much more aware, caring, loving toward another. Working together to make things right, somehow. I'm really glad that I was given an avenue to contribute my way, and I truly hope that somehow the work brings peace.

Thor is looking into showing all of the portraits from that night at an appropriate venue. Please let him or me know if you all have any suggestions or a connection for this.

Thank  you to Thor, my fellow artists, to Yupo and Legion Paper for their donation, but mostly to God for truly blessing our efforts there that night.

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