(III) A Mother’s Loss: THERAPY


All of a sudden I start to paint a child, about 7 or 8 or 10. And of course my head’s already at war, pretending there’s no significance. Oh just a child. I think I’ll make it a little girl. Feeding one of the birds on the steps. But all that’s crap because it’s not just a child and not a little girl it’s my son, and there he is.

(1)

[From a letter addressed to South African painter, Jolande Hesse]

“I would like to suggest something, which has taken me a long time to discover about painting and I would like to pass on to you.

It is possible, in creative work, to change and alter realities. It’s useful as a fundamental source of experimentation, but can go beyond that into the realm of self-fulfilling prophecy. Not too many years ago I was doing a great deal of traveling, living rough, and all my things were stored on the other coast. I was heartbroken over the separation. I started a painting of a wonderful big studio with me in it, in a fabulous bed, with everything I owned and missed around me, including the spirits of friends and animals. Studio and Spirit Dreams was the result. Afterward I ended up moving into several very similar places. The painting was cathartic.

Sixteen years ago when my son died I was swamped in grief. I have literally been unable to paint him at all. Only this past week I started a painting (without knowing where it was heading) of a wonderful garden island paradise, filled with birds and insects, flowers, sailing ships, a jeep, beautiful skies…then suddenly at the end of my brush my son appeared in it, and it was his. It is, in truth, the way for me to picture him still growing up with all the delightful things around him that I would have wanted him to have, to play and explore. It has certainly produced a great deal of emotion in me to paint it, which has turned from tears to delight in short order. And a sense of making something right over which, gone so wrong, I had no control. I’m suggesting this in part because . . . of your own story. You are new to painting, and wonderful at it. Instead of years usually wasted in developing technique that is ultimately discarded in favor of originality, you went right in with your heart in your hand, and it’s wonderful to see. I suggest you consider this skill as a playground for your imagination, to use in a way that will liberate you, and the subjects you paint, even more.

Artists have it in them to absorb and feel the depth of despair of life, and also to walk, with the viewer’s hand in ours, to imagined wonders that resonate with hope.”

(2)

The memories of my son always lurk, hover. Sometimes surface, sometimes a surprise arrival. wHOOOOOSH! I still cannot fully resolve the experience in me. I don’t know why. Maybe it never leaves anyone. But I want to somehow conquer the despair, to end the despair.

I get fairly trembling if I go into it all. And that scares me because it led me to a very bad place when he died, those first couple of years, not any place I want to go again.

So I’m back in the gallery painting on the landscape. I know it’s lacking. I’m adding some interesting things but there are still big open spaces I don’t know what to put in, make it more, make it better.

All of a sudden I start to paint a child, about 7 or 8 or 10. And of course my head’s already at war, pretending there’s no significance. Oh just a child. I think I’ll make it a little girl. Feeding one of the birds on the steps.

But all that’s crap because it’s not just a child and not a little girl it’s my son, and there he is.

So I’m getting very shaky and starting to cry, thinking what the hell am I doing to myself. And then I thought if I make it right maybe that’s precisely what I’ve needed to do. I haven’t been able to paint him at all. So I make myself keep at it until the form is right. I add a big Labrador. A jeep. Now he’s got a dog and toy. And the animals. And the garden, and off in a wild place with a wide open sky. And the bird, the hawk I started painting two days ago is really a sparrowhawk, wings spread, soaring, and Trevor’s on the steps under the sparrowhawk.

Trevor’s Treasure Island

(3)

I started thinking today that I’m not entirely pleased with the way I’m painting, almost as if everything I’ve done up until now is not right, or wrong, or off, or problematic. I end up with colors on the brush I don’t want, and then work and work on it and suddenly there’s a combination that’s so right it makes me cry.

I’m also doing essentially the first portrait of Trevor. He’s not the center of the painting but an important part. He’s a young boy on this strange bit of land, he is leaning forward feeding crows. I know much is coming from my subconscious. Without specifically planning it he appeared under a large protective sparrowhawk. It was going to be only a large sky and landscape, and there are massive flowers front and center, then I kind of started creating a treasure island, for Trevor, and oh God the things that have come into it, birds and emotions and sailboats and a jeep and more birds and dragonflies and crashing waves and trees and it’s getting very Hieronymus Bosch-y actually now I write this out.

I have likely studiously avoided delving very deep into anything, imagining I’d return to shaky ground. It’s so interesting to have you to write to, I swear. It helps me understand myself.

But the problem with not delving is a run of superficiality, which I don’t care much for either. I kept painting, saying, it’s not beautiful, it’s not beautiful….and then there’d be a start of something that worked, that was.

I think I may be having some rush of feeling to put everything in it that didn’t get done, know what I mean? It’s some kind of completing thing. I worked hours on Trevor. I wanted the physical to be just right, he’s leaning forward, in curiosity not a boy’s mischief. I want it sweet. There’s not much detail on the face and may not be, it’s the posture that says it, the position of the hands and legs. It sure is a major challenge of portrait work, and I’m about to start yours. There is so much in an expression, so much subtlety to get right so that it is what I want to say, unmistakably. And I am finding much fault with myself. It’s not flowing.

Well, I’m obviously consumed with all this. I will eventually have a breakthrough, because that’s the way it happens. If I can let it all sort of play out by itself it will paint itself.

The central flowers were initially on stalks, a very crowded base of leaves and stalks, and late today I set them all free as if they’d taken off in the wind. Some metaphor.

I’m sorry to be so preoccupied. Bless your heart for listening. And how I love thinking of you with the straightforward, wholesome work with feral creatures and big open skies.

(4)

I suddenly began to re-work a portrait of Trevor I started in 1996 and it was not good then. I have had the past two days of fluent emotional peaking and am finally getting into it in unexpected ways. It’s very different from the way I normally paint.

Trevor was born February 27th, 1972 and died January 27th, 1996.

I will say this for being a parent which I can only guess at with my own or other parents but I have the feeling it’s universal, which is that there is never a day that goes by that you don’t think about your child. This may be very good for me, the portrait is evolving into something remarkable. And I am trying not to burden it with, and in the process free myself from, all the weighty memories.

And two hours later, okay. I’m okay. I didn’t go nuts or die. I started something likely very important, or it drew me in.

(5)

The painting of Trevor is getting fascinating. A great challenge, and very good to see. The act of painting is taking over. I’m inventing a face I don’t think I ever saw, with a slight beard, JH inspired likely. Trevor and the royal Princes could all be kin, he looked like a skinnier version of Harry. I’m working on your portrait too and the one of me and the cats.  Good painting going on.

(6)

I am having some fine metamorphosis with painting. I’ve tried a great many things in my life, and there is always a point where I understand and accomplish to a certain level and then it gets boring and I turn from it, on to the next. I note that painting is a singular experience. I am staying with it, a lifetime, and it continues to open new doors. Amazing to me. And my increased facility is actually making the experience more inviting, not less.

I spent several hours again on Trevor’s portrait today. Very pleased with the results. I still can’t stay beyond a certain point

I’m painting Trevor looking very alive and happy. It’s a good painting. Wait til you see.

Trevor Paul Sparhawk

I used to be scared of experimenting. I’d think, What if I throw some blue in there? I’d been meticulously building in one direction and was afraid I’d irreparably spoil what I’d been working on. Now I’m all gung-ho doing, and it’s incredible freedom. Turns out nothing is sacred in that insight and challenge are more important than the illusion of success by repetition.

Painting, any art, has always been like a laboratory to me when I’m doing it best. Which is why I never could bear commercial art for long, beyond earning a living and learning something new, briefly. It’s all style in preference to substance.

(7)

[Yours] . . .  is such a solid, valid observation. I’m going through exactly this with Trevor’s portrait, asking him about the things I don’t know, that I want his time on earth to be incredibly full.  He’s maybe older in my portrait of him than an age he ever reached, maybe not.  He had a beautiful little body as a child, and grown up.  I’m working on his neck and collar bone, face, eyes, background.  I was about five hours painting today, and it’s getting very good. I want no tension in his face, a laugh that’s pure joy in the presence of good company, abandoned to a near guffaw.  It presents challenges to paint, several of which I have not dealt with before. And this memorializing, it extends a life I feel. That and all the lefts unsaid. A friend told me once of his best friend who’d committed suicide, Oh God! He would have loved it now! He would have loved this decade!! which seems so true of so many.

I think of that all the time.

(8)

Painted on Trevor’s portrait about four hours or so. I’m trying to get the expression just right, the mouth.  I’ve gotten both eyes in very good shape, very pleased. More work on nose and beard. Teary of course, oh Lord. It’s impossible and wrong that he died, John. It’s so wrong.

(9)

I spent hours, all day, in the gallery working on Trevor’s portrait, and took some pictures, not sure if I got it right. Or if it’s actually finished.  I’ve become involved in the side and backgrounds, lots of flowers and vines, I am always so desperately trying to give the child bouquets.

******

Well, it has not been an easy go but I’m at the finish, in the vicinity. I want him immortal, John.  Then back fulsome to your portrait.  I never fail to learn so much with any painting but more especially portraits, and I will be adding that to yours.

******

Well, despite poverty at every turn I am buoyed by the fine work on the painting of my only child and that I will make him immortal which he was destined for and this close of reaching on his own. My little boy.

******

I suppose by divine purpose the portrait of Trevor will be completed tomorrow, his birthday. I spent many hours today, and had gotten the left eye as good as the right, and the rest has fallen into place and there’s not much left to go.

It has been spurts of conversation and despair and hope.

Part 3 of 4 to be posted consecutively

[NOTE: A Google search yields no mention of Trevor Paul Sparhawk, nor can I find any record of his traffic fatality in NYC archives – although I may need to dig a bit deeper. If anyone reading this knew or knows of or has any information about Trevor, his life and/or death, PLEASE email me at oops.john@gmail.com]

 

(II) A Mother’s Loss: GHOSTS


I couldn’t stop watching him. I think Trevor does send these children and young men to me.

(1)

I saw a young boy about ten with his dad in Safeway checking out right behind me, and in a flash got all choked up. I smiled at the boy and said it was a pleasure to see him there, and I wish you well, and a very good, fulfilling life. And smiled at his dad and said, Which I know you will have.

John, he just beamed. A sprout of a kid, nice dad who was tall and you could see the boy beginning to catch up with him in that elongated stretch kids do in growth spurts where they thin out and loom upward and you can’t keep up with clothes and sneakers or enough food. They were wonderful together, easy, comfortable. I started to cry and turned away and stopped, and a minute or two later said something lighter about the food, his basket and mine, and said goodbye. I didn’t have to say what moved me, seeing a youngster okay, well, alive. His dad knew. The country knows.

(2)

I was in Safeway this morning (jelly donut) and in line behind a young woman with her son, five. Named Malachi. Very shy. I was talking to him trying to encourage him to respond. Reminded me of Trevor so much, little shy blond child. His mother said they’d just gone through lessons about not talking to strangers, I said I was sorry he was growing up in a world like that, his mom said, It’s okay, you can talk to him, but to no avail.

I couldn’t stop watching him. I think Trevor does send these children and young men to me. Then I started to cry, tears just rolling down my face. I said to her quietly I’d lost my own child, I wanted to explain myself so she wouldn’t be alarmed but I hesitate because hearing it is alarming to any mother. The Safeway guy and bagger were so clearly moved after she’d gone, I mean I’m standing there with tears rolling down me and saying, I’m sorry, You never know when it’s going to hit, you think you’re okay then something happens and boom.

(3)

A couple of hours ago I went up to the gallery and passed a car next to Bob’s saddlery that wasn’t familiar. Young kid in the front seat passed out over the steering wheel. Frankly I thought he was dead. I shook his shoulder, he suddenly popped up, incoherent, I asked if he had overdosed on something, did he need an ambulance (I’m embarrassingly dumb), he didn’t know where he was or where he lived. He staggered out and peed over my garden then got back in his car and passed out again.  Well everybody’s gone, so I drove down the block to the ranch guards, they knew him, he comes to visit his grandfather and robs him. I asked them to call the police. No sign of law after 15 minutes so I drove to the gas station and called from there, help was on the way.  By the time I was back an ambulance (not needed) was pulling out and three sheriff’s cars and the kid up and doing perp walk back-cuffed and they know him real good. Out of jail two weeks. The sheriff said the whole family are into drugs and alcohol, the father’s a doctor, they live at Carmel Valley Ranch which is VERY pricey millionaire homes, the father keeps kicking him out, he gets arrested and bailed. 

It was upsetting. I finally cried. I figured I should have taken the keys, it would have been a nightmare with him on the road, he was near comatose. Why didn’t I bring him home and feed him coffee and eggs and give him a place to sleep it off. All I could feel was angry he was being so stupid (and stupid a long time) and kept thinking of him driving away. I did not feel protective or caring or motherly at all. But he was just a kid. I’d have felt more for a stray or hungry or sick dog.

I don’t understand myself.

When Trevor died it was five in the morning and he’d been at a friend’s house partying and was driving the friend’s car and wanted to get back home to clean up for an interview later that morning for a THIRD job he wanted and fell asleep at the wheel.  Maybe that’s the anger, or the immediate reaction Don’t Let Him Drive! and why didn’t Trevor’s friends do that. Or did they? Maybe he took the car without asking and everyone else was asleep. And I don’t know and never will.

Life is so damn interesting.

After getting myself traumatized with memories last night I find the morning has produced a sense of liberation after all.  I initially just reacted as another person, a stranger to that boy drugged up in his car. Later I transposed my son which flooded me with…way too much of everything.

This morning I feel a kind of abandonment of these years of weighty responsibility for EVERYTHING that ever happened to Trevor. I think I first saw the boy as a separate human who was making his own life and mistakes.

I’ll tell you this, John. There is never a loss from engagement. It is always a benefit even if on unseen levels. Eventually comes the new dawn.

Thank you for being there to talk to. The extent of trust and friendship between us is just enormous, I hoped shared, and means so much to me.

(4)

Speaking of children, Trevor unexpectedly came to visit just after I’d woken up a few days ago.  I probably had been dreaming of him.  We planned a breakfast, first of pancakes and then crepes.  He checked to see if we had all we needed and brought it out on the kitchen counter.  He set the table.  We were both so excited.  He was about four.  Then shortly after we planned a trip to Big Sur, the Andrew Molera park and walking along Big Sur River to the ocean.  We had to pick out clothes and stuff to put in the car.  He was about ten then.  I said if we could find an empty parking lot or back road, he could practice driving again.  He was very pleased.  A few hours had passed and he was 13.

I’ve stopped thinking it insanity.  If anything, it’s calming for me.  I get to say and do much unsaid and undone.  Or not done.  The tragedy is that the undoing can’t happen.  I barely remember ever cooking for us.  So I’m changing that. I rather like it.  I suspect it’s also part of the children’s books writing, talking to my child.

(5)

I go to Safeway for Thomas Jefferson’s cat food. I’m in line, long stupid line, and a woman comes up behind me and calls my name.

It’s a Cachagua friend I haven’t seen in three or four years. I’m very fond of her. She’s tiny, dark, Indonesian. Her husband’s a big Irish redhead. They built a spectacular winery out there, way out past Carmel Valley, gorgeous land, successful. Four years ago her son, 18, died in a car crash on Carmel Valley Road. He drove into a tree and died at once. She and I have helped each other when we talk. I like her so much, very solid, very bright.

As we’re moving through the slow line I’m telling her about the experience with the painting. With Trevor.

Maybe they’re up there, playing together. Your son and mine.

She’s a Buddhist. Amazing woman.

Part 2 of 4 to be posted consecutively

[NOTE: A Google search yields no mention of Trevor Paul Sparhawk, nor can I find any record of his traffic fatality in NYC archives – although I may need to dig a bit deeper. If anyone reading this knew or knows of or has any information about Trevor, his life and/or death, PLEASE email me at oops.john@gmail.com]

(I) A Mother’s Loss: TREVOR


It was three months before anyone found me to tell me he’d died.

Trevor died a month to the day before turning 24.  And he was born February 27th, 1972, a year after your child.

I so keenly remember the stunning difference between pregnancy and a full human outside the womb in my arms who needed so much. And going through that over and over, like when Trevor started to walk, oi! Babysitters. School. The changes that brings. And all the hurry and grow-up does produce a sweet dreamy longing for the hard and constant work with infancy to return.

Yes indeed there’s a lot to juggle with a new baby to take care of, all of it unexpected. Small wonder some families have ten and fifteen children just to get to the point where they figure out what to do!  The baby experience does go very quickly as you see with Tzuri. It’s as if each day she’s an entirely different person.

I’d be so proud at his end of the day sleep, the sense of accomplishment of tasks done, washes done, house cleaned, everybody fed, the quiet that settles over, the contented kingdom. Brief and blissful. And not every day.

We weren’t close at all at the end of his short life, you just think you’ve got so much time. He’d been living independently on Long Island for five or six years. I was not big on motherhood and not good at it. I didn’t know his friends. It was three months before anyone found me to tell me he’d died, I didn’t know until March, I’d left Brooklyn and headed to Virginia, there three years already. Funny you said about setting him free and I felt that too though can’t explain why. Why, what is that?

In the back of my mind I’ve wondered too if a girlfriend, pals would find him with the portrait I’ve posted.  So funny you mentioned that, very intuitive. I’ve googled his name over and over through the years and nothing comes up which always saddened me, almost outraged.

You know, he was so enterprising, pure entrepreneur. He idolized Ted Danson in Cheers. He took a bartender’s course, then started putting up flyers to teach bartending and had students. He had a job on the Staten Island Ferry tending bar! I think that’s incredible, too wonderful. And he was good with computers, he had a really good mind. But computers were so much in their infancy then, the mid- and late-nineties.

When Trevor died it was five in the morning and he’d been at a friend’s house partying and was driving the friend’s car and wanted to get back home to clean up for an interview later that morning for a THIRD job he wanted, and fell asleep at the wheel.  Don’t Let Him Drive! Why didn’t Trevor’s friends do that? Or did they? Maybe he took the car without asking and everyone else was asleep. And believe me my brain is chugging on that one.  I still don’t know, may never know, if he was helped or comforted or alone.

Valentine’s Day is always the 14th of February. (Trevor died on January 27th, and was born February 27th, 23 years apart.  1972. 1996.) What a wicked hard couple of months for me at the new year’s start, though it’s always different each year and sometimes the days come and go without my notice. 

I’m doing okay this year, right now, but January was hard.  I wish I understood all the parts of such things, the kind of reaction I have and why.  I get a kind of brain short circuit, when everything goes haywire.

Well, there it is. Back to normal or whatever I am.

Part 1 of 4 to be posted consecutively

[NOTE: A Google search yields no mention of Trevor Paul Sparhawk, nor can I find any record of his traffic fatality in NYC archives – although I may need to dig a bit deeper. If anyone reading this knew or knows of or has any information about Trevor, his life and/or death, PLEASE email me at oops.john@gmail.com]

The Barbara Sparhawk Memorial Art Show


My work is focused on inspiring individualism, personal responsibility, and an independent spirit.”

 

Expressionist artist and published author Barbara Sparhawk passed away unexpectedly on September 4, 2018.

The public is invited to a Memorial Art Show being held in her honor at The Wild Goose Bakery & Cafe, 18 E. Carmel Valley Rd., Carmel Valley, CA.

The exhibit will be open throughout the month of August, 2019. Cafe hours are 6:30 am to 6:30 pm, although they sometimes close early on slow days.

Ph: 831.659.5052. 

We would like to invite you to submit pictures as well as video of your visit to oops.john@gmail.com, who will attempt to edit them into a short documentary that can be viewed here on The Hawks Perch.

 

 

Let Us Not Forget


My name is John Hayes, and I recently received the following sad news which I would like to post for those who have noticed Barbara’s absence from these pages:

“Alas, your fears are justified. Barbara died in early September (2018) from complications of surgery. . . She had survived radiation for tumors behind her eyes, and her sight had improved. She was in the middle of chemotherapy. Evidently, however, her cognition and balance led to a fall and immediate hip surgery for the break. She aspirated during surgery.”

I “met” Barbara online in 2012 while reading her book, The Gandy Dancer & Other Short Stories. We shared a love of art and writing, and over the next half-dozen years our email correspondence would grow to ¾’s of a million words.

From the beginning it was obvious that Barbara was special. Her observations and insights, her paintings and drawings, her bohemian life as an artist – in so many ways Barbara defied the norm and approached greatness.

In 2013 I described Barbara’s life in a blog as:

  • A life lived on the edge where the risks are greater but the rewards are priceless
  • A life spent saying ‘no’ to compromise and ‘yes’ to distant horizons
  • A life bristling with the ‘courage to be’ and practiced in the art of joyful engagement

If ever there were a biography as yet unwritten I would love to read,” I noted in that same blog, “it would be Barbara’s.” And toward that end I urged her many times to sketch her life in words, as well as to let me photograph and document her canvases. An artist of her caliber should not be forgotten.

“The only impulse I’ve had is to try and organize and solidify my papers and work, to make it easier on historians to keep alive, and still have some control over what gets selected out. Whoosh. I want some legacy, I think about it.” 

– Barbara Sparhawk

And yet, two months after Barbara died her body still lay unclaimed in a morgue in Carmel, California. I do not know if the situation has since been resolved.

If anyone has more information or thoughts they would like to share, please do.

 

“So we shall have at it and write for the sake of, and see where it leadeth and be happy and full in our souls from the splendours of the language, shall we not.”

– Barbara Sparhawk