Mozambican Odyssey, #19: Baptism in Mozambique

Joseph was baptized while we were in Mozambique. Baptism in Mozambique, 24×18, Oil pastel, by Susan E. Brooks

Baptism in Mozambique 

On March 23, 1997, my husband Martin was very happy to baptize my son Joseph in the baptistry on the mission property in Maputo, Mozambique.  The baptistry was a concrete box that we filled with water just outside the church.  Joseph was seven, but quite intelligent and mature for his age.  He was also small for his age, so in some ways he reminded me of a little drowned rat when Martin held him up, dripping with the baptismal waters, but he was a lot cuter than a rat.

He is the only one of our three who was baptized in Mozambique, Africa, and it was so different from any baptism I’ve ever seen in the US.  We were outdoors, and local children and were pressing in around all sides, so excited to watch the event.  There was no stage, and no safe distance between the spectators and the baptism.  There we were, all smashed together, a vibrating mass of humanity, with a man and his son in the middle, and the little boy saying I want to follow God and have a new beginning.  In his seven years he probably had not done much to be forgiven of, having always been a kind, sensitive child who looked after his little sister and adored his older brother, and never complained, even when his mom accidentally gave him chili powder toast instead of cinnamon toast.

Whether he was too young or not, whether we did everything right or not as we tried to raise our kids, I don’t know—I doubt it.  But I do believe God’s mercy is great and that He will honor our trying.  I think He will honor your trying too, because His grace is big enough to cover us all, and He knows we are made out of dirt.

Just a bunch of dirtbags trying to get by, and yet there is also something divine about humanity.  We are made in the image of the divine at least, and I saw that day, dripping with water, sparkling in the African sun, one of God’s kids declaring his love for his Creator, and all of the glorious God-made people pressing in close enough to touch him, and I think that’s as it should be.  We need to press in close at times, and open our eyes to the glory of God in each other, and celebrate the sacred moments when we get a chance.

Mozambican Odyssey, #18: Carried Out, Kicking and Screaming

We saw this young boy relaxing with his donkey as we traveled through Burkina Faso. 30 x 20 inches, Oil pastel on mat board, by Susan E. Brooks

Carried Out, Kicking and Screaming

He told us he had been threatened with a knife.

I don’t know if this has happened for anyone else, but it seemed like whenever Martin needed to travel, the craziest things would happen while he was gone.  If Martin left, one of the kids would spike a fever of 105, armed robbers would storm the compound, or some kid would say he was going to die if we didn’t let him move in with us.  I wish I were exaggerating.

I may have mentioned before a young boy who became friends with Kirk. We had been happy to have him visit in our home with thoughts of discipling a future church leader. I had studied the Bible with him and taught him a little English at his request. He seemed like a wonderful boy, but that week we found out he had some problems.

He started by telling us that his family was going to kick him out of the house.  We were skeptical, but with all of the street kids and orphans around, we knew it could happen.  We told him we would help if he got into a bind.  Kirk was all torn up, begging us to take him in.  The story became more questionable when he said we shouldn’t talk to his family, or they would beat him.  Kirk was beside himself, believing that his close friend would become a street kid if we didn’t help him.

Then one day he came and said he had been threatened with a knife.  He was in tears.  Martin had gone to Nelspruit for the day. Now what was I supposed to do?  I consulted the other missionaries on our team, and we decided that his family had to be confronted.  We found out that he had told many lies, and that his very nice family wanted him to come home.

He was at our house with Kirk, and he refused to even go outside to talk with his aunt, who had come to fetch him.  It turned out that  this boy of about 14 had to be literally carried out kicking and screaming by one of the men!  He wanted so badly to stay with us. What a scene!

It seemed that our young friend so wanted to live with us that he devised a scheme to accomplish that end.  It’s not so surprising really.  At that time, everyone wanted to go to America, and we had so much more of everything than he did.  No doubt he was hurting.  It was difficult to tell him that he had to go, but of course, I couldn’t kidnap him from his family— not that I wanted to.  It was just hard.

Kirk learned that you can’t trust everyone, a tough lesson at age 11, but his friend survived and seemed to be fine.  Later he came back to help Kirk make kites and learn the culture in many healthy ways, and nothing like that ever happened again with him.  Many Mozambicans seemed very happy with the little they had, and put me to shame, but poverty is a scourge that I have never had to suffer.  I have no room to  judge those who cannot escape the vicious cycle of poverty.  I don’t blame him for trying.

This Artist’s Life, #12: Working with our Hands

 

Ancient Cedars in the Summer Sun, Oil on Canvas, 11 x 14 inches, by Susan E. Brooks will be on display at the Jane Morgan Gallery from December 5 – April 2020.

 

“Where the spirit does not work with the hand, there is no art.”*

—Leonardo Da Vinci

I have to admit that I do not know exactly what Leonardo meant by these words, but this quotation is thought-provoking for me.  As usual, I am feeling a little sad with the approaching of winter and even the holidays.  I need some encouragement.  One way I can find encouragement, is to work with my hands.

I was having a conversation with an artist/teacher friend the other day, and we agreed that there is something healing about creating with your hands.  I find that whether it’s painting, drawing, or making a pie for Thanksgiving, I feel better and breathe easier when I’m working with my hands.

Too often, I am just “in my head,” worrying over the grandkids’ health or the latest car trouble, and I need the healing that creative work brings.  We sometimes act like we are only vehicles meant to carry our brains around while they do all of the important work.  The reality is, we are body, soul, and spirit, all connected and created to act as a whole.

Perhaps this is what Leonardo meant when he said the spirit needs to work with the hands:  Sometimes, when our hands are able to create what our spirits are needing to express, what results is art–something that goes beyond just one person’s expression and becomes universally true and impactful in unique ways to the viewer.

Simply working with our hands can be healing and helpful, but when the spirit shows up expressing truth through beauty, this is art.

 

*  https://renee-phillips.com/art-and-artists-statements-by-famous-artists/

This Artist’s Life, #11: Inspiration from Fellow Artists

This is one of the few animal paintings I’ve created. I’m now inspired to try more animals. We saw this young boy relaxing with his donkey as we traveled through Burkina Faso. 30 x 20 inches, Oil pastel on mat board, by Susan E. Brooks

Open Studio Weekend is an event sponsored by LVA, Louisville Visual Art, and by the University of Louisville Hite Art Institute in Louisville, Kentucky.  During this special weekend, scores of artists around town open their studios to the public, and LVA sells tickets with maps and information about all of the studios.  I did not sign up as an artist this year; instead, I enjoyed visiting the studios of fellow artists. It was an inspiring weekend for me.

The first artist we visited was Helen Merrick.  Helen uses bright colors to paint just about any subject you can imagine.  Helen inspired me to think about painting subjects that I don’t usually paint, such as animals or historic sites, and to try different mediums, such a watercolors or alcohol inks.  Thank you, Helen!

The next artist we visited was Anne MacCracken Borders.  She showed me that  I could open up my back porch studio area to visitors, and reminded me that I have traveled to many interesting places around the world that I could paint.  I will be digging into my travel photos soon!  Thank you, Anne.

On Sunday I stopped at KORE Gallery to hang out, both as an artist and as a visitor to my gallery owner’s studio.  I had never taken in Don Cartwright’s studio, which is filled with beautiful abstract paintings.  Abstract painting has not been my purview, but sometimes I feel that it takes more creativity than working from life or photos.  Thanks, Don, for sharing your creative imagination with us through your painting.

Our last stop on the Open Studio tour was at Debra Lott’s studio.  I love her colorful, haunting, floating figure paintings and portraits! She inspired me to think about how I can communicate powerful messages and advocate for justice with my art.  Thank you, Debra.

Thank you, LVA and  U of L Hite Art Institute for a great weekend of art!  Perhaps I will invite you all to my place next year.  Meanwhile, here’s my next big event:

This Artist’s Life, #10: Only One You

We are each one of a kind. Stachelle, 12×16 inches, oil pastel on mat board, by Susan E. Brooks

There is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost.

—Martha Graham

I love this quote, and it fits as I try to encourage myself to keep going.  We are created with unique creative minds and souls that are constantly coming up with ideas that no one else in the world is having in exactly the same manner, and if we don’t free ourselves to express and create, that unique expression will be lost.

We can get blocked, however, so what can we do when that happens?

I am writing these helpful hints to remind myself, and I hope you can benefit from them as well.  From the wonderful series of books beginning with The Artist’s Way, by Julia Cameron, these are some things we can do when the creative juices don’t seem to be flowing.

  1. Free write for at least three pages daily, in the morning if possible.
  2. Get out for at least an hour a week, and go somewhere different just for fun, such as a fabric store, museum, pet store, art gallery–somewhere that feeds your imagination and makes you smile.
  3. Go for a walk weekly, if not daily.  Walking gives a fresh perspective and helps you process your thoughts.

There you go.  Three easy steps to jumpstart your creativity and mine.  Thank you, Julia Cameron.

This coming weekend our city offers Open Studio Weekend, and for one small price you can visit lots of art studios in town.  One stop on the map is KORE Gallery, where you can see my work and the work of many other talented artists.  I plan to spend part of my time there, and also tour other artists’ studios.  This is a great opportunity to experience new ideas and get inspired for your own work.  Hope to see you around the studios this weekend.

This Artist’s Life, #9: “Art Is for Life”

 

I keep adding layers, scraping and sealing, painting and adding layers of pastel again to see what I can come up with on this experimental landscape.

“Art is for life, not the other way around.”  –Austin Kleon*

How does an artist keep going when life gets busy and hard, and everything seems to be pulling at us from every direction?  How does one find time to stay fresh and experiment when so many opportunities and obligations are filling the calendar?

Using oil pastel on a surface of textured acrylic paint is giving the foliage a unique visual effect.

With new shows opening every month at KORE Gallery, fall art fairs, and an opening in December at the Plein Air Gallery, nine grandchildren that need “Ony,” church work, and holiday activities, time management is a big challenge for me.  I know it is for all of us at this time of the year.

I have decided that at least for now, it is okay to not to apply for every art opportunity, and allow myself to focus on the art commitments I already have, and maybe even experiment a little, so that I can keep growing as an artist.  If I am so exhausted from going nonstop, my creative juices are drained, and the work suffers.

There are different seasons in life for all of us, and decisions have to be made daily that can make life richer in the things that matter, or make life more stressful than necessary for the sake of things that are not as important.

Art is important, but so are family, church, rest, health, and so many other things.  For too many years I put art on the back burner, and I’m not going to do that again–but I need to find a balance.  Sometimes, I can be overly dramatic:

“There will never be enough time or money to create the masterpieces that I have in mind.  One thing after another will keep falling apart until I am dead, and I will never accomplish my dreams, so I might as well quit all together!”

“Oh, get over yourself!” I have to say to myself at times.  “You can work for a few minutes today, and then again tomorrow, and maybe a few hours later in the week, and over time, you will have a body of work, and you will grow as an artist.  You do not have to do every art fair and every show this year.  ‘Art is for life, not the other way around.'”*

I know it’s a little scary that I not only talk to myself, but I also answer myself.  Weirdness aside though, I hope you can avoid running yourself ragged too.  Don’t take yourself too seriously, and slow down enough to enjoy the coming holidays.  I intend to do just that.

*from the book Keep Going by Austin Kleon, p. 127.

This Artist’s Life, #7: Capture the Moment

Sycamores on the Ohio, en Plein Air, Oil on Canvas Panel, 11×14, by Susan E. Brooks.

Everyone discusses my art and pretends to understand, as if it were necessary to understand, when it is simply necessary to love.  — Claude Monet

The sky was so blue, the sun was dancing on the water and dappling the sycamore trunks with light and shadow, and I was so lucky to be out there, just soaking it all in, loving the moment, trying to capture it in paint.

The idea of plein air painting, a French term meaning to paint outside, is to capture the moment, the fleeting light and shadow, and to express in paint the feeling or mood of a outdoor scene as experienced by the artist at the time.

Some days it doesn’t go so well for me, and I stress about the painting, or about other things in life, and I’m not able to inhabit the moment.  At the restaurant where we were painting last week, they were blaring loud, throbbing rap music, which is not what I would choose for a peaceful painting atmosphere, and it bothered me at first.  But after a few minutes, I was able to just enjoy the beauty of the day, the river,  the trees, and the sunlight, loving the colors and the process of painting out of doors, and the blaring music faded out of my consciousness.

What I am learning from plein air painting might be relevant for other areas of my life as well.  I  need to forget about the distractions that could annoy me and  just look for the beauty in each moment, focus on the gift that is this day, this task, this few minutes with a loved one or friend, enjoy the time, and love.

(My plein air work will be available at Jane Morgan Gallery, 4838 Brownsboro Road – Arcade, Louisville, KY 40207.  Exhibition dates are Dec. 4, 2019 – April 30, 2020.)

Monet quote is from https://www.azquotes.com/author/10263-Claude_Monet

 

Mozambican Odyssey, #11: The Witch Doctor’s Drums

Coming into the Light, Oil pastel on paper, 24 x 18 inches by Susan E. Brooks. Available at KORE Art Gallery, Louisville, KY

The Witch Doctor’s Drums

It may not have been the very first night.  I suspect the first night in Maputo we were so exhausted that we didn’t hear a thing after traveling from Chicago to London to Johannesburg, South Africa, to Maputo, Mozambique, with 3 children, 14 tubs, 6 carryons, and countless goodbyes.

But I remember the first night that we heard the drums.  We were told that these were the drums of the witchdoctor.  As I sat on the porch, and listened to the sound in the distance, it felt as though we had traveled back in time or even to another world–which, in a sense, we had done.

I wondered what the drums meant.  What exactly did a witchdoctor do in Maputo, Mozambique in 1996?  Were the drums sending a message?  Was it about us?  Were they beating out,

“Let’s meet to go slaughter the new missionaries at 2am”?

I had no idea, but at the time I was not afraid.  It felt like a mysterious adventure, and I felt that God was with us.

Looking back sometimes I wonder at myself.  I am not a brave person.  I am a shy person afraid of many things. I can only explain going to Mozambique as God’s giving me peace and strength for what I was supposed to do at the time.  I know we made many mistakes, but I would not trade the experience for anything.

Maybe I need to take a lesson from my old self.  If I could survive moving to Mozambique and living there for 3 years, which was both wonderful and extremely difficult, maybe I can face today’s challenges.  I just need to trust.  Maybe you can too.

This Artist’s Life, #6: Is “Normality” the Goal?

Memories of Bernheim, oil pastel, 18 x 24, by Susan E. Brooks, available at KORE Gallery

“Normality is a paved road: It’s comfortable to walk, but no flowers grow on it.” ~ Vincent Van Gogh

Most of the time, if not all of the time, an artist needs to follow her own way.  Of course, we all have a lot to learn, and it’s good to be humble and always listening, but when it comes to art, every human being is creative in his or her unique way.

It is fascinating for me to walk into KORE Gallery, where I am a member artist along with dozens of others, and see how many different styles and perspectives one can have on landscape painting, for example.  There must be something special in man, that every artist can develop his own style, and there seems to be no limit to artistic interpretations and creativity.

Did you ever think about how we can recognize the differences between a Van Gogh, a Monet, a Picasso, ad infinitum?

As an artist, my goal is not just to create a beautiful painting, but to develop my own unique style and to paint something that no one else in the world would ever paint.

There is a clarity, or maybe it’s a desperation, that comes with age.  In the time I have left I want to avoid “normality,” find my own path, and maybe a few creative “flowers” will grow along the way.

 

This Artist’s Life, #5: Purple Trees and Blue Ladies

“Strength in Blue” sold at KORE Gallery back in the spring. Oil Pastel, 20×24 inches by Susan E. Brooks

“Color is my day-long obsession, joy and torment.” ~ Claude Monet

Someone was looking at my painting the other day and asked,

“Why is the tree purple?”

“I feel like most trees should be purple,” I replied, and I don’t really know why this is true.

Experimenting with color is part of the mystery and the magic of creating art for me.   I realize that most trees are gray or brown, but in those grays and browns, I see shades of violet, and blue, and pink, or at least the light seems to suggest those colors to my mind.

I love color, and most of the artists I admire used color in creative ways.  Monet used all kinds of unexpected colors: he painted orange haystacks, blue and orange cathedrals, and if you look at his series of Poplars, even purple trees.  Mary Cassatt used blues and greens and violets in her flesh tones with beautiful effects.  Picasso had his blue period–maybe this is my purple period.

It is fascinating to me to see the unique styles of various artists.  I hope you can come out to the Portland Art and Heritage Fair this Saturday to see the many different interpretations of the the theme, “Life on the River.”  Mine will be the oil pastel painting of the river with the purple trees.