“Death is nothing at all”

Test canvas, pre-painting

“Death is nothing at all. It does not count. I have only slipped away into the next room. Nothing has happened. Everything remains exactly as it was. I am I, and you are you, and the old life that we lived so fondly together is untouched, unchanged… There is absolute and unbroken continuity… I am but waiting for you, for an interval, somewhere very near, just round the corner. All is well.”

Henry Scott Holland

When I stop to think about it, I think one can find some beauty in death.

As the earth prepares itself for a long slumber under heavy layers of snow and dead leaves, it struts out with the most magnificent display of fiery hues. Typically, this dazzling show of colour lures me back to my paint brush and canvas after a long spring/summer hiatus.

But not this past autumn.

This time, autumn brought a death of a different kind to my life. I lost my father last October. And suddenly, I could no longer pick up a brush. What ensued was a process of grappling with a kind of loss that stops time, and makes everything else melt away.

We’re all aware of the cycle of life at some level. The beginning, middle and end of things. But now, I find that the concept of time in relation to my dad’s existence is no longer the same. When I think of him, the chronology of things is all reshuffled. All stages of his life exist simultaneously. He is both young and old… at once healthy and frail… present and sound of mind, while lost in delusions stirred up by a despicable dementia.

After a long break from painting, I finally returned to my studio to complete a ‘salute’ to my father; both a hello and a good bye, though not necessarily in that order. I chose a photo of him in which he is absolutely brimming with health, vitality and good humour. A time when the camera caught him completely relaxed and joyful. And to be brutally honest, it is also a reversal of the day he died, nestled in a chair by his bed.

As I created these pieces with a mixture of photos, ink, medium and acrylic paint, I listened to my one of dad’s favourite songs, by Mohammad Abdel Wahab, ‘Min Gheir Leyh’ (‘There is no reason’ or ‘There is no “why”‘). Those in the Arab world will know him as a classic Egyptian musical genius and vocalist. Notably, the song itself is significant as it muses philosophically about the anguish and ecstasy that make up the human condition.

The first two paintings in the slideshow are different treatments of the same content (they could also be seen as mirror images of each other, or like a photo and its negative). My dad sits basking in light. In the next room, he is standing just behind the curtains. Hanging up on the wall behind the table are photos of him with his grown-up children, son and daughter-in-law, and his grandchildren, taken many years later. He is simultaneously in his 30’s and 80’s. Time and space take on new meaning. He is young.  He is old. He is in the foreground while being just out of reach behind the curtains. He is present, and he is gone.

‘Invisible’ and ‘Invisible in Grief’ are fairly self-explanatory. There’s just this feeling of being a part of the world around me, and yet far away from it. And yet the images are not dark. There is still light at the end of the tunnel, and there is a reaffirmation of life and renewed appreciation of dear, loved ones.

‘On the Rooftop’ is inspired from the day I stood on the roof, watching someone fix my parents’ cable. It was where my dad always went to oversee anybody working on the house. I felt like he was there, and I was finally able to see the old white mosque in the distance, that has now been swallowed up by countless apartments buildings. The colours, to me, are full of light, glory and peace.

The final painting was a total fluke. I set out to do an abstract piece, which led to creating a vague female form, which then – after dropping ink on it- transformed into what I can only see as a shadow of my dad’s form, almost square head, wearing a bow-tie and glasses. I realize this is completely subjective, but nonetheless, that is all I can see.

I am aware this posting is incredibly personal. It may only resonate with those who knew my father. But I hope that at some level, it strikes a chord with anyone who has lost a loved one so close, that they can never really be dead.

For me the creative process is inevitably healing. How lucky am I? I got to spend some time with my dad, share his music, remember the good days, and truly feel that he was just around the corner. He had only slipped away into the next room. Nothing had happened. And everything felt like it once was and as it should be.

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  1. Please accept my sympathies on the loss of your dad. I missed your posts and your wonderful artwork. So glad that you are back now. Best wishes ~ Susan


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