Thea’s Green Egg Painting


“Tell me about this one,” Ursula said, pointing to a painting in Thea’s cozy living room where they’d been having tea. Thea rotated her paintings often and this was one she’d never seen before..

“Ummm. That one is still something of a mystery,” said Thea, hands on her hips. She stared at it for a few breaths. “It was a breakthrough painting.”

“Is it new?” asked Ursula.

“No. I did it in a fit last year when it was pointed out to me that I was busy telling myself the story of each painting like I already knew what everything symbolized. Or thought I did,” she added ruefully. “What was the point of all this exploratory painting if I had a pat answer for all my own questions, even if they only turned up as I painted.”

“What made you take the leap in the first place away from your accustomed style?”

“That was an earlier stage. I often tell people it was because I was bored, but I’m realizing that’s not quite right. I knew there was something more I craved than that standard kind of beauty. Beauty was part of it, sure. But I wanted to know more about myself, rather than the outward landscape of the world. I needed to jump off the proverbial cliff. Be The Fool. The tarot deck I had just bought made me realize that there was a whole level of my psyche I hadn’t been able…. willing?…. to explore.”

“I know how that feels,” said Ursula. “That realization was what made me leave my church. Charley and I took up meditation with a teacher for a while, but then I felt like even meditating in an organized way was keeping me in too much of a box. Charley still gets a lot out of it. I started doing ritual when Stella came to town and wanted to start a women’s spirituality group. Everything evolved from there. But how did you make the leap?”

“I think for some people it’s important to switch creative realms entirely. Garden instead of paint. Write. Sculpt. Learn bodywork. For me it seemed to be enough to switch mediums. Using acrylics and oils loosened me up, made me forget all the rules I’d internalized…. most of the time.” She smiled, remembering the occasions she had been called out on that one. “I took a Process Painting class where the instructor would say, ‘Why not use a startling color that makes you uncomfortable?’ or ‘Which is more important? A piece of paper or your life?’ That one really got me cause I realized that what the end product looked like actually had become all-important. That, and…. What. People. Thought. Of. Me.”  She emphasized each word realizing as she spoke how very important that had been to her. Still was, if she was honest with herself.

“In another class we painted with a question for three hours and then spent three hours discussing the work. Not as capital ‘A’ Art. I had plenty of that in school and it doesn’t interest me any more. Rather we talked about the paintings from the point of view of the psyche. The teacher was sort of a Jungian with art therapy training. She also was pretty darn psychic. This painting came out of a question she fired at me one day…. a challenge really. She told me to do a painting I didn’t understand. Boy, did I squirm with that one.”

“And this is the painting?”

“Yep. I did it with my left hand to try letting go of my thinking self. Sometimes it seems like I need to just cut off my head. There’s a painting of that too.”

“Is that a woman’s torso?” asked Ursula.

“I’ve always thought so. See how her legs sort of sprawl there? I think that’s a paintbrush dangling near where her knees would be. I’ve done a lot of figures since that have a paintbrush.”

Bear & I Birthing Each Other“Yes, like the Bear one upstairs,” Ursula always noticed things with her beloved Bear on them. “Looks like you at least left out the head in this painting. I certainly don’t see one.” They both laughed at Ursula’s observation.

“Yes, like the Bear one in your studio upstairs.” Ursula always noticed anything involving her beloved Bear. “Looks like you at least left out the head in this painting. I certainly don’t see one.” They both laughed at Ursula’s observation.

“After it was done I cried and cried whenever I looked at it so I knew it was important.”

“Does it still make you cry?”

“Not really. Now I feel frustrated cause I still don’t get what that swirl is.” Thea hoped she didn’t sound like she was whining. This was an on-going question for her and the reason she had put the painting back up.

“Isn’t it on her belly?”

“Sort of. But it could also be her boobs or her…. cunt.” She spoke the forbidden word hesitantly. “I don’t get what it’s telling me. I’m still waiting for one of those ‘brief glimpses of the blindingly obvious.’”

“Shall we draw a tarot card about it?” asked Ursula.

“What a great idea.” Thea reached towards the shelf behind the couch for the brown decorated bag that held the round MotherPeace cards. She handed them to Ursula who sat down on the floor and spread them out to mix them up. “My old friends.”

The golden swirls on the floor were beautiful and enticing. Thea’s hand hovered above them and then dove for a card. She hooted as she laid it face up in front of them.

“Daughter of Discs. I consider this the vision quest card. Duh – tell me something I don’t know.”

“Good call – it’s exactly the situation you are in. Discovering yourself, pulling yourself away from your normal world. In this card it’s a desert scene but our coastal temperate rainforest is every bit as challenging for you. Like in the card, you’ve drawn a proverbial circle of stones around yourself for your questing and you’re holding up your staff to the light. Perhaps even attracting celestial help of some sort….”

“My pipe in hand. You know I smoke pot sometimes to be in ceremony and to deepen the paintings.”

“I’m doing that more these days than I used to. Take another card.”

This time Thea drew the Priestess of Wands. A strong looking naked black woman, dreads flying, had her hand on a lioness whose head nestled into her lap. A rainbow arced between the sun and a pot of gold tucked in the rocks.

“Bravo, she’s got all her tools and allies,” said Ursula.

“I don’t know what that odd instrument is in her hand but I’m declaring it a paint brush,” said Thea. “Is that a lizard next to her or a salamander?”

“Hard to say, but if we’re talking about our ecosystem it’s more likely to be the bog-loving salamander or a newt. I’d keep an eye out for them and a feline ally. Maybe it’s Gato here or maybe something bigger. The flowering plant is witch hazel. Take one more. It would be cool to get a definitive answer.”

“Ha! It’s the pregnant belly one.

“Joke’s on us. Should have known we’d get a card describing the situation rather than a foretelling.”

“One can always hope.”

“This 7 of Discs tells us again that something is ‘aborning.’ Again like the Bear painting upstairs. You are on a quest, you’ve got your tools, but it’s still gestating. Like those fat juicy melons around her. You know, all these women are naked. Like your paintings. Brown too. I’m getting from this and from your paintings that your body is your teacher – perhaps there is something inside there. Can you go on a cosmic treasure hunt to find out what is being birthed?”

“That’s exactly what my painting journey is. A cosmic treasure hunt. The gestating of a seed…. I just wish I knew what that seed was.”

“Maybe that’s what your painting up there is about…. See that green in the roundness of the belly?”

“A seed! You’re right. A green seed…. or an egg which is a kind of seed….” Thea felt that lovely buzz of a revelation resonating deep in her core.

“There are folks here who could help you with the search for details. Owen does Soul Retrievals. That’s a shamanic process where he ‘journeys’” Ursula raised her fingers to indicate quotes, “to find parts of yourself that were lost in your childhood. He doesn’t do sessions often but I think he’s really good and should be doing more. Could do more. I don’t want to ‘should’ all over him.” Ursula smiled. “Also June‘s sand tray counseling process. Her office has a delightful room full of miniature figures – everything from trees to monsters to princesses to crystals. You use them to make scenes in a small sandbox and then talk about what is showing up there – not unlike your painting process. You can interact with it as part of the quest – bury the wicked stepmother, select an animal to befriend you, light a candle for a prayer. The possibilities are endless. I never tire of it and always learn something new, whether on my own, with Charley as marriage counseling, or even in a group.”

“I’ve heard of both of these processes. Sounds like good next steps since I don’t have a painting group. Though sometimes I think maybe I should start one…. or teach a class….”

“There’s work to be done in company and work to be done alone. That Priestess of Wands card tells me you’ll know. Have fun.”


Thea’s Evening

Thea signed her name in green in the lower right hand corner, put the brush to join the others in the muddy water jar, and wiped her hands on her paint-smeared sweats. That last move didn’t get her hands clean but at least got rid of most of what would otherwise be transferred to anything else she touched. By the end of a session, especially if she was finishing a painting, she tended to use her hands more than the brush. Somehow she needed that direct contact with the color, paper and images. Her fingers by now knew what they wanted and the brush had become an annoying intermediary. She liked the softness of the result and the process made for some satisfying surprises. Not that the whole painting wasn’t a surprise.

Part of her loosening up technique over the last year or so was to wash the brush only rarely, just sticking it in the next color that called from the palette or the drawer of squeezed looking tubes. It meant she sometimes got several colors coming through even though the most recent dip had been into say….alizarin crimson. Those serendipitous streaks often turned out to be what she liked best later, highlighting an upwelling from her psyche that her conscious mind reaching for the red would never have dared do. Not that she wasn’t capable of mixing a good skin color when she needed it, her own burnt umber and teeny bit of white or the pinky yellows most “white” people sported. She could also depict a foot or a jaguar when one was called for.

Often she went into the painting with no idea of what she was heading for, though she might have the previous night’s dream in the back of her mind or a nagging image of an animal or place. She allowed the shapes that appeared to dictate the images and then she elaborated on those. “Rorschach painting” a friend named it. When she got stuck she let a color call her. Mostly she tried to keep her mind with its critical eye and thoughtful commentary out of the way of what was wanting to come through.

Now, having declared the painting done (a decision the painting itself might yet revoke), she stood back and looked at what had emerged. The lovely light of the morning was long gone and the room was in shadow, the sun now low out the western window. “Magic Time” if she’d been paying attention, but Thea was fixated on the images spotlighted before her. Not her favorite light to paint by but good enough when the fever was on her. Normally she would have stopped painting hours ago and gone for a walk or fixed a nice supper or even curled up with a book. She was reading a lot these days. But this painting had hold of her in a special way and she had labored over its birth on and off all day.

The image of the woman had morphed. Gone wild. She was now many-armed like the Hindu goddess, Kali Ma. Four hands to chop and four to comfort. She who knew when to cut the umbilical cord. Somehow Kali’s usual four arms hadn’t seemed enough for the tasks at hand. Never mind that the nature of those tasks was still a mystery…. There was now a definite spidery quality to her…. Subtle lines with silver and purple edges spun out of her solar plexus. These had been “mistakes.” Thea remembered trying to paint a web after she’d seen the gray haired spinning woman turning into Grandmother Spider. Now she realized they were more like Maypole ribbons without the bright colors. A good pagan fertility image. She wondered what it meant in this context. The “ribbons” weren’t attached to the circle of people who danced just below them though some of the dancers seemed to be reaching for them.

The spider-woman was still in a cave like she was under or inside the Mountain, but the profile of the Mountain was clearer now. Thea hadn’t realized she’d internalized that shape so well. It was clearly this Mountain. Rearing up from the skyline was a fuzzy green dragon, one of the last things to go in hence the green of her signature. A beacon fire shone on the west slope. A beacon to whom? A beacon of warning or a beacon of calling? She imagined other beacons on other mountains lighting the way for…. for what?

“Celestial messengers.” Silence for a breath. Then…. “You and the others.”

The words formed clearly in her head, not audibly but like she saw them scripted in her mind’s eye. “Huh? That was different.” Suddenly drained, she sat down heavily on the wooden chair she’d started out in but hadn’t used for the last hour or so at least.

The dragon seemed protective…. “Keeping unwanted forces at bay.” Now the words in her mind appeared in bold type as well as in italics. The next ones came in purple…. “Grandmother Spider and the Sitka light the beacons that call you here.” She had the feeling that the “you” was collective rather than just herself….

“Phew. I’m tired and hungry. Best go heat up last night’s pea soup and toast that polenta bread from the bakery. It’s been a hella day. Maybe make a little hummus.” The legumes sounded good. Breaking a rule, she left the brushes for later and headed downstairs. Gato rose and stretched on the couch in the classic chakravakasana yoga pose – and began mewling for dinner.

“Wash hands. Change into a cozy flannel caftan. The purple one. Do a standing forward bend and then a back bend.” Thea’s mind instructed and her body, though slow, followed through. She barely took note of the moon rising in the trees and the owl hooting just outside. “At least right now it is my mind,” she grumped. “Not words all italicized and colorful. Thought you was gettin’ batty there for a minute, Girl.”

Thea’s Morning

Thea Culver stretched and climbed out of bed. “No more musing,” she told herself sternly. “Time to get to work.” The sun was just peeking into her bedroom window over the tops of the mountains and through the huge Sitka spruces in her yard. She knew that meant it would soon be streaming into her studio upstairs. But first she got to enjoy it through the shower window. As she ducked her closely cropped crinkly hair in the gloriously hot stream of water, she thought about all that she was washing away in her life these days.

Gone were the ambitions to be a successful “capital A” Artist…. well, almost gone. The “capital C” Call of her recent move to the coast had been a compelling one. She had come despite the warnings that by going so far from the mainstream both geographically and content-wise, she was throwing her hard earned reputation away. She hated to think how many had cautioned that her galleries in Portland and Seattle would not be interested in this new weird bent she was on.

Gone too was her primary identification with her black community. “It’s mostly alotta white folk out there,” was the gist of the comments from her friends. Her family understood that part of it – much of her mother’s side was Greek and she had grown up in Beaverton. That Portland suburb had a little racial variety but nothing like she had found going to art school in the East or what she had consciously chosen upon returning to Portland twenty years ago. But even her family thought she was headed dangerously over a cliff into woo woo land. How could she explain this strong sense that she needed to explore this deeper side of herself away from familiar territory.

The Call had definitely created a fork in the road. Though terrified, she had nevertheless decided to “take the road less traveled.” How that would show up in her life was still unknown. There was a lot of blank canvas between her and any sort of clear outcome.

She thought of the tarot cards in her basket. The Hanged One – a figure dangling upside down from a tree branch – had been coming up a lot lately in her readings for herself. It was a symbol of changes chosen freely, unlike the Tower that was a painful lightening bolt wakeup zap. One of her books referred to the Hanged One as the Norse God Odin who had friends lower him by his heels into a well where he uncovered the runes. The card was also about a sacrificing of success and power for a communion with the earth. A surrender of the sort that is neither a giving up nor a defeat. She was choosing to take the continuing appearance of this card as a sign that she was on the right path. Sometimes it felt that she had hung herself that drastically as well. It was one thing to paint the watercolor urban landscapes she was known for and which sold well. It was quite another to dive deep into her psyche and pull up images of bleeding vaginas and strangely morphing shamanic power animals, not to mention the change in her palette that made many uncomfortable.

It was no wonder she had been so drawn to the tarot when she first encountered it a few years ago just as her monthly bleeding was coming to a halt around her 50th birthday. It was like the Fates or whoever had given her a gift for the next phase of her life. Looking back, it was clear that it was a gift that had changed everything. She would never forget the Chariot of the MotherPeace deck – the first card she had drawn. There had been that shiver of delight as she recognized the apple tree, Athena with snakey haired Medusa on her shield and Nut, the Egyptian Sky Goddess, arching over. So many symbols she had grown up loving….

“Oops, musing again,” she thought now, feeling guilty about the hot water running down the drain. She was just learning to be conscious of water and energy conservation. “But then ‘a Muse’ and ‘to muse’ is a gift for an artist. It’s precious ruminating time and don’t you forget it.” she lectured herself, chuckling as she noticed the puns. “It can even be ‘amusing!’”

As her new friends here reminded her if they heard her fretting, a shift as big as hers was bound to take a while to get started, much less to gel. “To change gears, you have to go through neutral,” both Ursula and Owen had said more than once. It seemed everyone here was wiser than she was. Yet she had to give herself credit for listening to the Call in the first place – especially with all she had given up of her former life including lover, nice home and her comfy reputation.

“Too comfy. Sometimes a snake has to shed her skin,” she snorted as she put on the bespattered sweats that were her painting outfit in colder weather. “Brr,” she thought now. Fall was definitely here.

Her studio was indeed inviting, if chilly. The little electric heaters were whirring and would soon warm it, as would the sun. It lit up the paintings on the walls and the cutouts pinned all over like a collage gone wild. Some were pretty strange to her and she hadn’t yet figured out why she was drawn to put them up. Looking at the Georgia O’Keefe pelvis print always gave her a shiver as did an older painting of Indians sitting around a campfire, most with their backs to her, their faces lit by the fire. “Should I be thinking of them as Native Americans?” she wondered a little guiltily.

And then there were her own paintings. At first it had been a matter of blind faith to launch into the new mediums of acrylics and oils, avoided since her college days. Now she delighted in the immediacy of one and the smear-ability of the other. Both gave freedom from the carefulness that had kept her previous work pretty tight. She’d avoided putting figures in her other work, but thanks to life drawing classes many years ago, women’s bodies still flowed out of her hands. She wished she’d had more male models back then. But the Chagall postcards she had pinned up with their rough characterizations and dreamlike quality gave her license to push those boundaries in her own work.

Now this new one of an old woman at a spinning wheel…. She kept having the feeling that the woman was under the Mountain somehow or in it. Spinning seaweed? Spinning stories? Thea wondered if there were any native legends about a woman in this Mountain she now lived at the toe of.

What colors would she be wanting on her palette today? Was it a green day or a purples and reds day? Would that weird combination of phthalo green and white come out? It seemed more and more to indicate some wild, uncontrolled magic in the paintings, often showing up when the Pan-like figure did.

Should she smoke a little weed to get herself going? That was a new practice for her too. She had somehow missed most of the drug-laden times of her growing up era, but had recently been drawn to some locally grown that added a deepening to her process. She didn’t smoke every time she painted but some days it was a potent tool. A sacred one that added a sacred dimension to her work. Blessings on California for instigating the conversation about making marijuana legal. Thea found her pipe and stash tucked where she had left it by the paint rags.

Soon, as she looked around, her eyes were drawn to the clutter. Perhaps she should use the rags to clean up a bit. She lovingly polished the empty Damiana liqueur bottle on her altar. The clear glass bottle’s fat, motherly Goddess shape was such a gift to her, as were the ancient stone and clay figures it was based on, especially since her menopausal body (“menopaused?”) was showing signs of a similar shape. Thea rubbed her own belly, then reached for and donned a round large-breasted pendant of turquoise that she’d laid aside on the windowsill the other day. Not for the first time she gloried in the synchronicity of the name her mother had given her. “Thea” meant “goddess!”

She looked over to the corner where a Frieda Kahlo print was propped. She’d found it the other day at the recycling center. Frieda, practically a goddess herself, inspired Thea to be bold and fearless as she delved deep. It had been Frieda’s karma to undergo some serious Tower episodes to reach into herself, portraying her tortured world unflinchingly. Thea was determined that her own healing and search would be more like the Hanged One – no need to have a bus accident to take up the journey she was meant to be part of.

She was about to tackle the cobwebs around her growing collection of feathers, shells and dried flotsam, when she thought of Grandmother Spider, whose season it was. A huge spider had recently taken up residence over her kitchen sink and amazing webs were all over the yard. As a city girl she ought to have been afraid of spiders, but she never had the heart to kill them, though she did usually try to keep their webs at least slightly under control. Today, however, she suddenly made the connection between spiders and Halloween, the witchy time just around the corner. She was learning that they are an inevitable fact of life here in the woods and perhaps she should be honoring them by letting even their webs stay a bit longer. Perhaps that was why cobwebs were a part of Halloween decorations. This time of year it was simply too overwhelming to keep them cleaned out.

The unfinished green painting of the old woman caught her eye again. Is she spinning just like Spider does? Does the silver thread come out of her midsection like that of the Southwest Indian creator goddess? What needed to happen to that painting so that it expressed both The Mountain and the storyteller and Spider?

Grabbing a purple felt tip pen she scrawled the words from an old Judy Collins song:

If somehow you could pack up your sorrows,

And give them all to me.

You would lose them,

I know how to use them.

Give them all to me.

Then selecting B-Tribe on her iPod, Thea settled in to discover what else the painting wanted and what Grandmother Spider had to teach this willing student.