Friday, December 31, 2010

New Year, new year...

Nicole Cummings England, September 24th, 1973---December 24, 2010

Yesterday was Nicole's viewing, and what a hard day that was.  We started off with all of the kids crammed into the car (like the good old days!), and we set off to New York.  We had to make a "pit stop" in Manhattan to drop off some of my work for an upcoming show, and we did not anticipate that we would be sitting for *two hours* in the helix by the Lincoln Tunnel.  So, imagine a carload of teenagers whining about their asses being sore, having to use the bathroom, and being hungry, and being bored.  I was ready to RUN through the tunnel on foot by the time we actually got near to it!

The City was still poorly cleared and cleaned after the blizzard, so it made for monstrous traffic and parking became like the legendary unicorn...we did manage to find some illegal parking, and Mark stayed with the car as I used the young muscles to carry my work to the gallery.  After a much needed bathroom and food break, including a dirtywater dog for Mark for his post as parking spot "watchman,"  we started out on our journey again over the Brooklyn Bridge.  With traffic moving steadily at a crawl all the way through to Staten Island, we arrived nearly seven hours after we started our trip, and we were frazzled and just grateful to be out of the car by that point. 

We stopped to gather with the family before the second viewing of the day, and enjoy some light dinner together.  Her parents were holding up as best as can be expected when enduring a tragedy of this magnitude.  Her mother is an elegant, and beautiful woman, and Nicole and she were so similar, it is amazing to behold.

We arrived at the funeral parlor, and Mark went out to find some parking, as the number of mourners and friends, even at this final viewing, was overwhelming to the point of having to open up the adjoining rooms to accommodate everyone.  Luckily, Nicole's was the only wake for that time in that funeral home, so that all of her well-wishers packed every last seat, spot and crevice of the place.  There had to be at least a hundred people at this particular viewing, and several hundred during the course of the day.

The flowers were so amazing, literally a hundred different beautiful arrangements, some monstrous in size, down to a few, small delicate orchids with a dainty vase and beautiful sentiment, and they filled every last spot along all of the walls, fanning out from her coffin.  The scent of the flowers was overwhelming at first, and made me cringe...that sickening smell of sweetness, in association with funerals, always repulsed me until I can get over my aversion and adjust to it.

Nicole lay in a beautiful, pink lined coffin that was pearlescent gray, with rosebud handles, looking like Sleeping Beauty.  She was so beautiful still, even in death, with long blonde hair spread out, and a look of deep peace and serenity on her lovely porcelain skin, a hint of shimmering pink on her lips.  My emotion overwhelmed me at the sight of her, a mixture of disbelief, pain and this can't possibly be true, it can't possibly be the end...and it's not.  The look of glowing acceptance on her cool cheek bolstered my knowledge of her residence in Heaven...she was with God, and she was released from this mortal world.  No more pain, no more suffering, and she will always be young, always be sweet and beautiful...

My sister had pinned a delicate, pink antique crystal brooch to Nicole's pretty white sweater, and the beauty of it made me smile.  Nicole was always such a stylish woman, she would be pleased.  I touched her smooth, relaxed hand as it clutched her crystal rosary, and whispered my final good-bye to her...

I hugged my brother and the boys.  They were holding up, and were grateful for the large outpouring of love and support.  My brother seemed dazed by the whole event, but put his best face forward, and greeted everyone with dignity and gratitude.

Today was her burial, early this morning, but we were unable to make it back.  Her parents understood, hugged us "goodbye," hoping that will keep in touch even though Nicole is gone now.  I promised her Mom that we would, and she looked deep into my eyes, with her beautiful blue eyes filled with tears, and for that moment I looked into her soul, and felt the depth of her pain, and all I could do is hug her and weep...

And so, we said good-bye to our beloved Sister. 

It's New Year's Eve, and I am very subdued, and yet, hopeful for the happiness that 2011 will bring.  Life is a mixed bag, and for the huge, sad events that happen to us, there are many, many good ones too.  We shoulder on, we remember our dear ones who left us, and we go forward and build happy bridges to the new people that enter our lives...our sister Nicole left us this year, but my sister Dale gave birth to a new baby girl, named Nicole, for our dearly departed, and we now get the privilege of moving through the new circle of life, and the pleasure of watching these new people grow into our the end, life is Good, life is a Gift, life is a Blessing.

And, with that thought, I look forward to 2011.

God bless you all, and have a wonderful, happy, healthy, prosperous 2011.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

"The Kiss"

"The Kiss" by Hilary J. England, 2010, 16" x 20" oil on hardwood panel

I finally was able to finish this painting, after MUCH struggles...but, I am very happy with the results (just need to adjust the photo since it is way too high key due to the circumstances I photoed it under).

This painting is number three in the continuing series I'm doing studying youth, and the impact of their circumstances, and the struggles they go through as they come of age.  In this painting, I conveyed the pain, shock and disbelief of being betrayed by a good friend, the dawning realization of what acts had been committed, and loss of innocence that accompanies that first shocking betrayal.  In the end, I watched how they sorted out their differences, and how the friendship was cooled, and I saw how Noelle was altered, and a little less of a girl, and a little more wordly because of it. 

I worked through my own issues to complete this, having lost my sister-in-law less than a week ago, and Christmas in the midst of it, and to add to the mix, having a flu that left me so drained, I could barely get out of my pajamas.  I decided that no matter how I felt, I still had to move forward with it, and with this series.  I have another four to complete, and then I'll see if I feel I have finished with that particular subject matter...maybe not!

My mind is somewhat scrambled, since following Nicole's death this week, we've had some MORE bad news about another family member, and I feel like I'm being dashed against the rocks emotionally.  My brain is resisting the absorption of all of this negativity, and when it gets over-loaded, it has a tendency to short-circuit and shut down. 

I need a few days to regroup, and recover from the sadness of the upcoming funeral before I start deciding on what subject matter I want to tackle with the teens, and how I'm going to compose it, light it, etc.  I usually mull these things and sketch, and also write out, my ideas.  I'm not too formal in doing tight-assed preliminary drawings (that's right--be shocked, Myron!), and kind of do some loose sketches, get the main design elements together, find an emotional center that I connect to, and pretty much go from there...and, usually, some internal cut off switch just lets me know when I have completed it.  Simple stuff?  Nah, not really.

So, that's that for now...

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Snowy peace

The East is being hit by a blizzard tonight...but not us.  I know my friends in New York are seeing up to 20 inches of snow, but here, the snow has circumvented skirted the mountains, gently touched the edge of the pine trees, and left us a pocket of flurries...a light snow dusting covers the grass, and nothing more.

Yesterday, Christmas Day, was a riot of noise.  My parents, my sister and her boyfriend, and Gabby and the children arrived, and the kids dove in to opening their gifts.  After all of the hysteria of that, we sat around in the kitchen, eating and drinking, and recalling good times of Christmas past, and had many laughs, and again, a tear or two.  We enjoyed each other's company all the more, it being recognized as precious, in light of Nicole's passing the day before...

After everyone was gone, and the house was quiet, Mark and I began the clean up, and quite exhausted, we both went directly to sleep.  This lingering sickness reared it's ugly head at night, with aches, congestion, sore throat, etc., and along with a general malaise in my mind, sleep was hard to come by.

We arose early today and headed out to Church, which was quite empty, since of the approaching snow and recent holiday, but the message was comforting, and I was glad I made the little effort to get there.  I got home, and everyone just quietly went to their own little corners of the house to do their own activities...Mark and Anthony sat to watch football, Noelle to play on her new iPhone, and I headed out to my studio, for the first time since the day before Christmas Eve, to do some work.

As the fire crackled in my little potbellied stove, and the snow gently fell, I felt such a peace wash over me.  It was like a little pocket of Heaven, a moment frozen in time.  In that moment, I felt a radiant love in the midst of the mental queasiness that had been hanging over me for the last few days.  Then, as quickly as it came, it evaporated, and I stood there, in front of my easel, and I could just feel the paint jumping out at me, the colors blazing, with a sense of urgency...As if all of my fears were tied into that painting...the ridges and swirls of colors, the smooth expanses of creamy hues, and I felt an appetite arise in me that became as big as the room itself, and again, I felt peace.

I don't know what this New Year will bring, none of us do.  Sadly, I have reached some sort of proverbial "hump" where I don't really look with excitement toward the New Year, more like with bated breath and a bit of trepidation, but I won't do that.  I staunchly refuse to let fear creep into my life...An old friend of mine used to say, "Do all you can do, and then stand."  That's what I plan to do. Stand, not cower.

Nicole's wake is set for Tuesday and Wednesday, with her burial on Thursday.  It was a long, suffering journey for her, and now, she has reached her destination, the Heavenly realm.  I pray for the strength to go this last distance with her earthly remains, as the parting point for us here, and we will meet again in the next life...that thought brings me comfort, and shores me up for the difficult next few days...

Friday, December 24, 2010

A Devastating Loss

It's Christmas Eve, and I'm very exhausted.  I have been battling a flu that won't go away, and I woke up to very sad news I have been dreading...  My sister in law Nicole, has died.  Her battle with brain cancer is over.  She was called home to Heaven this morning of Christmas Eve, and she is now with Jesus. 

Even through all of her suffering and her struggles, she was so strong, and so beautiful.  She fought death for  months beyond what anybody would give her.  She entered hospice in early September, and she amazed everyone with how she survived.  She wanted so much to be with her boys, my nephews.  She fought through the pain, to the very threshhold of death, and stilled and poised, there she stayed for over three months. 

My brother and her parents are devastated, as are we all.  Even though we knew how gravely ill she was, every day she stayed alive was a gift, and somehow gave us a strange hope...a hope against hope...even though we knew what the end was predicted to be, still we prayed and prayed...first for the cure, for her miracle, and in the end, for the release from this mortal pain. 

After much consideration as to what we should do, we decided to go ahead and gather for Christmas Eve dinner, and we will gather for Christmas day dinner as well.  We decided that we would have a rememberance of all of the wonderful times we were blessed to share with Nicole, in honor of our girl, who was taken much too soon from this life.  We shared alot of laughs, and also tears.  It was hard to be around the table, thinking of earlier, happier days, and know she will not be there again...not in our earthly lifetime.

So, until we meet again, sweet Princess, you are in all of our hearts, always.

Rest in peace, Nicole, age 37 years, and 3 months, to the day. May flights of angels see thee to thy rest.

Thursday, December 16, 2010


Sometimes a painting is just a pleasure, and you sail through it on a calm sea, completely in tune with your brush, and it is such a triumph.  This painting I'm working on is not. 

I can understand that not all paintings will be as mentioned above--if they were, we would never grow as artists.  I had to come into the warm and take a breather, since this new painting is giving me a fit.

It started off as usual, but now that I've hit the middle ground, it just isn't "gelling."  The eyes are staring through me rather than at me, and since I'm working in such a high key, the midtones are completely gone, so I have to create my own three dimensional visual "bridge" that really isn't there...that's called improvising, and if it isn't done right, because there are no perceptual visual cues for me to go on, it changes the dimensions of the I'm walking a very fine line. 

My plan of attack is usually to start working on another area of the painting when I get stuck.  I usually walk back about 10 or 15 feet, and look at as a whole, and see what needs to be adjusted, and get to it.  Today, I woke up feeling yucky, it was cold out and I wasn't tolerating it well, and the face, which is one of the main composition components of the painting was just glaringly annoying me, the tones were wrong, the dimensions off, and too many fussy little things going on too early in the painting,  so I went berserk and just basically painted out the whole thing--got rid of all details, and started again with big design components...

So now I'm in here...feeling crabby, and taking a breather.  We've had a row, my painting and I, so now I need to be away from it and sulk for a while.  Soon, I will go outside and make up with it, but just not now.  I need to clear my head and get warm ;-)

Yes, I know it sounds psycho, and maybe to an outsider it is, but to me, it's how I operate and communicate to the Muse...sometimes we are friends, sometimes not.  It's a very real thing, and once you leave your "zone," or can't find your way in, it's a problem.  So, I'll clear the head a while, another cup of coffee...

Friday, December 10, 2010

"Young Model"

"Young Model" by Hilary J. England 16" x 20" oil on canvas

The last two days at the Art Student's League have been productive.  I was able to complete this above painting in about three hours, (four hours time with several 5-10 minute breaks).  Although I must admit to working with some inferior materials, when the world hands you lemons, break out the salt and tequila!  In other words, I tried to make the best of it.

 She was a good model, easy on the eyes, although, for me, I was literally on top of her in my easel position, and due to where I was, she was almost completely in shadow, again.   I seem to be always in the area where the model is always in shadow, which really forces me to see the warm and cool tones in the flesh, or else she would come out looking like a  solid blob of gray with a few flecks of yellow here and these studies are very good for me in that they really force me to see beyond the obvious.

I knew Joe would be back after being absent the night before, and as is his way, he can be brutally frank when he critiques, but for some reason, he seemed to be happy about things--maybe he was in the Christmas spirit! 

I had skipped out last week to go see the tree at Rockefeller center with Noelle, Jill and Trevor.  We ate some food at the Brooklyn Diner, which was quite festive and done up for the holidays, and then off to the tree...encountered some rats in the subway, but, heck, they're entitled to stay warm too! 

So, that's it till next week.  New model, new painting.  I'm also working on two new paintings in my studio, and have put off any landscape work due to the holidays and it being brutally cold out lately...heck, I just can't muster the Under Amour right now...I will after New Year!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Cozy winter days and a new painting

"The Thinkers" by Hilary J. England 18" x 24" oil on hardwood panel

I have been spending the afternoons and evenings playing chess with Anthony.  I enjoy that time we spend together, as we take out the wooden chess board, and all the neatly carved pieces.  He is a young man now, and I am flattered that he doesn't find the time with me boring.  We laugh and he usually beats me, but I am proud of his intelligence, and getting defeated in chess by him only makes me more proud, and not bitter like he jokes it does!

This is the newest painting in my series revolving around Noelle.  It's called "The Thinkers," and it was a very interesting painting to complete.  I really had quite a gusto for it, and I didn't feel any stagnation through this process.  Some paintings just flow so easily, others come kicking and screaming.  This was a pure stream of thought, and the creation of it was very harmonious and satisfying. 

I enjoyed the girls "mugging" for me, playing at sophistication in their 14 year old minds.  How deep and complex and devilishly simply all at the same time.  The playfulness of it masked the very adult way they try to take they are in the early stages of young adulthood, and they wish to be "older."  Sigh....

So, I tried to convey that, how complex and strangely simple they are, and of course, not let their happy youth get lost in the impishness of their age.   A unique balance, but I feel I caught it at the right moment.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Back home

Sorry I didn't post a little sooner, but this last trip really took it out of me.  Barcelona was beautiful and chic, and the Galeria Con opening went smoothly and was very enjoyable, but I was literally stomped by jet-lag and depression, so that even all of the beautiful sights, sounds and smells of the city did little to lift my spirits...I did have internet access and should've blogged, but I couldn't bring myself to...I just couldn't.

As I sat down by the Mediterranean over the weekend,  watching the huge breakers wash over the shoreline, I thought of my family back home, enjoying Thanksgiving, and I felt sad.  Not about missing the turkey, or even about missing the gathering, but about how time has changed so many things for us, how we've all grown up, apart, and we've all moved away.  My parents are old now.  We've lost loved ones.  People have entered and exited our lives.  The kids aren't kids anymore.  WE aren't kids anymore.  So much has happened, and rather than being in the midst of it, being away from it made me see how far we've come, both in a positive, yet scary way.

This brought tears to my eyes, in the realization that everything changes, inexorably, constantly moving forward, ripping and tearing along the way, leaving bits and pieces, sometimes whole sections, behind.  I felt nostalgia when I thought back to holidays of the past, when we were all together, and there was a feeling of safety and home.  It seems gone now, hollow...and that made me feel even further away than I was.

I thought about Nicole, and the pain washed over me in a wave bigger than the ones in front of me.  I can't help her.  I can't fix her.  I can only hold on to my memories of her, young, gentle and lovely, not the present reality, and allow the grief to run it's course. 

Many changes happened this year, and this trip caused me to remember rather than to forget, as it was on the anniversary of a few of them.  I guess if I wanted to forget, I should have went back to Paris ;-)

Anyway, the holidays are rapidly approaching, and that just means one thing--hold on to your wallets!  Santa is coming with his big, red sack, that contains a Shopvac in it, to suck all of your money out...spoken like a real Grinch!  Actually, I do love the holiday season very much, the good times with family and friends, the cheerful decorations, the food and parties, even the season's first snowfalls, and the peace of seeing the countryside blanketed in pristine white.   Yes, I do love the holidays.

I am working on three new paintings in the meantime, as I have two shows coming up that I need to complete my work for, plus still going to ASL to paint with Joe, so busy days ahead.  I will post as the new paintings are finished.

Ciao for now, and God Bless.

Carry on- Beginning Life in Lockdown

“Study of dramatic back lighting” oil on wooden panel, 16” x 16” Strange Times Beginning Life in Pandemic Lockdown Life in ...