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  • Writer's pictureSusan Q Brown

I think I figured out these angels

I finished the painting of the young mermaid riding with the bull. The "flying Mary's," which are angel-like shapes are in the painting, and are a language I often use in my work.

These angel-like shapes are repeated in a grid for an older work, pictured below. I have been making these angel shapes for as long as I can remember and today I had an astonishing insight into why.

The detail below is a close up of one of the angel-shapes pictured above, and some of the words in this section or surrounding it are: Light, devoted, current, powerful, electric, exhibit.

I was feeling really joyful after completing this new painting, the first of 2023, but after a few days I experienced anxiety that I didn't understand. The anxiety was located deep in my gut and became worse when I thought about exhibiting this -- or any -- work.

I shared this with Aaron, my husband, at breakfast this morning, saying something like, "I think I am having a nervous breakdown." He assumed I was kidding, exaggerating. But I persisted and said, "No really, I can't explain it but I feel intense anxiety." He asked me what I thought it was that was making me feel this way, and I started having memories of being terrified of exhibiting my work. For example, the first show I had in SOHO made me so anxious that I walked back and forth on the sidewalk across the street from the building where the gallery was, many times before I had the courage to go inside. I shared many other memories with Aaron of feeling scared to show my work. Ugh. And then I remembered something, and the memory is as vivid as if it was happening right now... ... I had made a three dimensional angel in 3rd grade with the usual materials, a grey cardboard cone, pipe cleaners, paint, sequins, paper, glue. I had no opinion/critique about its merit as "art," but I had just made the angel at school, and I was excited to show it to my father. Excited to share this "thing" that happened. He took one look at it and laughed.

And as he laughed he made a loud mocking remark, ugly. I don't remember all the words, but I see his face like a silent movie where the expression is exaggerated to get the point across. For that one startling moment I think I lost the ability to hear at all, and I became frozen on the outside to hide from him the searing hurt and confusion I was feeling on the inside. My feet still worked though, and clutching the hateful angel I walked to my bedroom, numb. I think I pulled off some parts before tossing it in the trash.

Staggering that a father, whom I adored, who taught me about empathy, who in one unconscious jab, delivered a silent wound that lasted a half a century. This aha moment is only hours old... still, I am excited to paint more angels and still exhibit my work and maybe I'll even walk through those exhibition doors without anxiety...

Light, devoted, current, powerful, electric, exhibit.

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