Quantum Identity VIII: Brave Multiplicity — This Bright Mystery

This artwork gets its title from the poem, Beyond Two Selves, part of the Intersex Triptych. One stanza of the poem depicts a struggle of identity:

I woke slowly

And am awakening still

To brave multiplicity

To deep secrets hidden even from myself

To the lies of the world I swallowed

And choked on

When I ate the decay

Of identity bounded by opposites

The painting conveys this darkness and decay in this by covering a luminous silver with black saguaro seeds, left over as a byproduct of the Tohono O’odham saguaro harvest. The darkness in the corner seems like an inverted sunspray often seen in paintings and photographs depicting light. Instead of rays of light, we have a scattering of blackness. Instead of wings, we see molted feathers. Things seem to be falling.

And yet there is beauty. The blackness is not just dark, but these are seeds, remnants of something sacred and each one full of life and nourishing. Scattered among the dark seeds are colorful crystals, representing the sublimation of tragedy or struggle into treasure. This beauty is only available in the dark parts of the piece, only reachable beyond the shed feathers. Emotional alchemy, a subject explored in much of my work, is represented here again, and is also evident in the poem:

The dark tree of my former shame

Has become an arrow of light

And I seize it

I name

And proclaim

And aim it at the world’s ignorance

Piercing through a trillion books

That erase me and my kin

Lancing the false choices

We were forced to make

Cleaning the old lines drawn

Across our bodies

And the words used to shame our flesh

And condemn our desires

This bright mystery

Cuts through assumption

With an invitation to the same curiosity

That makes me free

The painting is art once dark and light, hopeful and sad, reflective and absorbing, trash and treasure, alive in mystery. Underneath the new painting one sees remnants of the old generic painting of flowers, discarded as a dated piece of decor and found by me at a local thrift store. The past is still there. It is not erased, but transformed into luminosity. The tacky seventies-style palette-knife painting, probably a mass-produced piece, with a badly damaged frame embellished with fraying burlap was just sad. It looked like it had hung in a heavy smoker’s home for decades. I was amazed that something that had probably been so happy once, with its lively yellow flowers and seventies goldenrod tones, had become depressing and even toxic looking. Age had not been kind to it, and it obviously had been neglected. As soon as I covered it in the silver auto paint, though, it glimmered as if alive. I couldn’t believe how beautiful it became, and the texture of the sad flowers turned into starbursts. It was a joyful moment as an artist, and I was so happy to see the transformation so closely echo the poem.

This has become one of my favorite pieces, and it now lives in my all-white guest bedroom over an antique Arts and Crafts dresser we rescued from Harvard’s Quincy dorms during their refurbishment, and surrounded by other cast-off and repurposed items. Because of its association with an autobiographical poem, I see this painting as a type of self portrait. Or at least as something deeply personal. My spirits lift every time I see it there, glinting in the light.

Click on the photo to enlarge. Quantum Identity VIII: Brave Multiplicity - This Bright Mystery. Discarded auto paint, saguaro seeds, molted macaw feathers, vintage Swarovski crystals on a discarded canvas and frame.


This artwork also accompanies and represents an original poem, Beyond Two Selves.

To read the complete poem, click here.