The exotic tropical birds are what you see first. A large red macaw taking flight from the top of her head, blue tipped wings curled upwards towards the light. A resplendent quetzal with long tail, a green toucan with red tipped large beak, a green brilliant hummingbird, a kingfisher all poised to fly into the green dappled forest behind her. Surrounding her hair are butterflies, dragonflies, beetles. A small monkey crouches tentatively beside her left ear. A spider, iguana, lizards crawl up towards her face. A snake slithers in tandem with two green and red frogs. Even the roaches ascend. Two jaguars are seated at her right ear and a large sleepy-eyed brown sloth gives perch to a rat also reaching up to the light. She has named it Pura Vida. Pure Life. It is the magnificent painting created by visionary Canadian artist Autumn Skye Morrison. I immediately fell in love with the painting back when I first saw it on the front cover of the We’Moon Weekly Engagement Calendar of 2015.
I already knew of Autumn Skye Morrison, a deservedly rising star in the world of visionary art. My feeling is that her art speaks to the rising spirit of humanity deeply engaged with and respectful of the natural world. A new earth consciousness. I have used her art in my undergraduate ecopsychology classes over the past 4 years as examples of what we call the “ ecological self”- a term coined by Norwegian philosopher Arne Naess. Sometimes I give my students an assignment to go to an art gallery or museum and find artistic representations of the ecological self- the larger self within us that we may cultivate in communion in nature…the self that recognizes itself in our shared ancestry with all life on the planet. The self that abandons the anthropocentric worldview and instead, sees itself not as having dominion over other species on the earth, but rather knows that we are equal partners, equal brothers and sisters with all creatures on this evolutionary adventure that have arose out of Gaia, Mother Earth. We all come from her. She comes from the stars. We need each other. We are all in this together. Equal participants on the journey through life. This is the ecological self and to me, the Pura Vida painting is a beautiful visual representation of that interconnected worldview.
I imagine Autumn Skye at the Envision Festival in Costa Rica where she began this painting. Dancing and painting, channeling the new earth consciousness that this festival and others like it embrace. The painting comes across as a celebration of dancing with life, the woman and her allies: the four legged, the winged ones, the many legged… all moving towards the sun overlighting the scene from above the forest canopy. And though I have never seen the painting in person, it has been a beacon and an inspiration to me in my own creative life. At the end of 2015, I cut out the image of the painting from the We’moon calendar and placed on my vision board under the words ‘Unleashing Boundless Abundance.’ It has been in my studio present for every painting I have created over the past three years.
Autumn Skye Morrison lives in Powell River, B.C, a small former logging town on the Sunshine Coast of British Columbia. My step-brother Glen lives in Powell River and one day about a year ago, he calls and we talk about art. He’s collecting art now he says. He tells me about some of the art he’s collected, the inspiration he finds in art, in the lives of the artists he’s collected. I say, “Hey, there’s an artist in Powell River whose art I really love. Autumn Skye Morrison.” “Oh I know Skye,” he says quickly “Yeah, I have 3 small paintings of hers.”
After I fall out of my chair, he tells me how he first met her when she was dancing in a show at the theatre. How she’s such a nice person. I tell him I contacted her by email some years ago and asked for her permission to use her images in an ecopsychology presentation I was doing at the university… how she was so gracious and said of course.
Three weeks ago, out of the blue I get an email from Autumn Skye. Glen wants to buy me something of hers as a gift. She invites me to pick out a canvas print or even a small original and she’ll send to me. Wow. I am speechless. I call Glen and he says he likes all the painting and writing I’ve been doing and he just wants to give me a gift. I email Autumn Skye and let her know that if she had a canvas print of Pura Vida or even just a paper print that would be amazing. She says they will work on it.
Last Friday, I lay down in bed to take a nap in the afternoon. I was exhausted after what felt like holding vigil with every other woman and man I know… being present, bearing witness to the unfolding of what felt like a Truth and Perhaps-One-Day Reconciliation Commission up on Capital Hill. On Thursday, the day of the testimony of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, I spoke to multiple women, us all digesting it. I created several supportive memes with my paintings to use on social media. I hardly slept Thursday night so an afternoon rest was in order. I’m lying in bed and check my phone. Autumn Skye Morrison has emailed me with this news:
Glen has bought me the original Pura Vida painting. The original painting.
I am in shock. I can’t believe he did this. He is unbelievable. I leap out of bed and call him. He’s not home and I leave a message.
Later he calls me back and I say:
“Glen, are you crazy? You can’t do this… a print is fine!”
“You know, I don’t like prints,” he says. “ I don’t buy prints…I think you were meant to have this painting.”
Again, I am speechless. It is hard to take it in that I could actually become the owner of this magnificent work of art. All that night I think of the painting. I think of the generosity of the gift. I think of Glen and the connection, the synchronicities, the amazement of it all. I feel like this is bigger than just a brother giving his sister a gift of a painting. There’s a metaphor in this but I don’t know what it is.
The next morning Saturday, Glen calls again. He’s feeling it too. He says: “ I just wanted to tell you that me giving you the gift of the painting was a bigger gift to me than it was to you… “
I’m still digesting it. He tells me more about his collection of paintings. He has 15 original paintings he’s collected that are sitting in his den. I suggest that perhaps he should think about opening his own gallery. I can imagine gregarious, community-minded Glen introducing visitors to the lives of the artists he admires… his open-heartedness and generosity spilling out to touch the lives and hearts of people who view his collection of art. He is quiet for a bit and then says, “I have my own gallery.”
That afternoon I’m in my studio. I’ve been working on a painting the last couple of weeks that began with an intention to heal the wounds of being betrayed by the masculine. It started after I had woke up in tears one morning at the end of August after a dream that was acutely raw with feeling betrayed by men. This was old, old stuff. The dream was set in my childhood neighborhood in Jamaica. I began the painting to heal this imprint and it had been morphing into something to do with ancestors. I’m playing an old mixed cassette tape with Louis Armstrong singing What a Wonderful World and thinking of Glen and all we’ve gone through. I’m thinking of how much he adored my Mom. She was a piano player and he is a piano player. He had her professionally recorded so her music lives on because of Glen:
Louis Armstrong is now singing Everybody’s Talking at Me
Everybody's talking at me / I don't hear a word they're saying / Only the echoes of my mind … I'm going where the sun keeps shining / Through the pouring rain / Going where the weather suits my clothes . . (Harry Nilsson)
. . .and I start to cry because whenever I hear that song, I think of Al, my step-Dad, Glen’s Dad. Glen chose to play that song at his Dad’s funeral. Al loved Louis Armstrong. My Mom died in 1993 from cancer. A year later I got a call early one morning from Glen. His Dad had died. It was unbearable. His Dad, the kindest, absolute most gentle soul, someone who would give anyone the shirt off his back was gone.
It’s 24 years later. I am thinking how interesting it is that Glen is so into art. He says that collecting art has opened his vision – it has transformed how he looks at the world. And how improbable it is that I am now also an artist – how improbable and unexpected these paths would have been to either of us years ago.
I think about the timing of the gift. I think about how it felt to me like not just a gift from Glen, but also maybe a gift from the Universe? It in some ways feels like a healing and a message – words can’t describe it but something about how we are all in this together. Masculine, Feminine, Earth… We are all in this together . . . .
Every time I think of the painting, I think of Glen’s act of generosity, I think of the new Earth, the ecological self that the Pura Vida painting has represented to me, and being in the middle of creation of a painting representing healing for the masculine and the feminine … I can’t stop crying…
I lie in bed Saturday night thinking of something to give to Glen as a thank you for this great act of generosity… I think maybe he’d like a little painting of mine. He loves birds. I have a small 9” x 12” painting of two doves with a nest. One bird is sitting on a tree limb looking over the nest. The other bird is in flight descending down to join his mate. Yes, I will give this to Glen… my little painting Doves of Hope. © Kathy Stanley
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In loving memory of our ancestors, Sheila and Al Northcote who live on in our hearts….