La Desserte, Harmonie Rouge, Matisse, 1908
I’ve always been making something with my hands: finger painting when I was 3, paper mache at 6, hay bale fortress building at 9, guitar fingering and strumming at 10, needle-threading and sewing at 11, crepe paper flower-making, more paper mache, and stringing beads at 12 (remember that, Adele?), Moonlight Sonata and stretching fingers to make an octave at 13, chair and building drawing at 14, calligraphy at 16, face drawing at 18, pottery making at 20, photo developing at 21, hubcap sculpting and other “found art” gathering at 22, pick-up truck camper building at 24, house painting at 25….the list goes on, and that’s just the first 25 years. But I think you get the picture.
Needless to say, seeing beauty and responding to it in my own personal way has always been like second nature to me. I love creating things, but I never really considered myself an artist ~ until now. Just today in fact. I said it for the first time to a man in the hospital waiting room where I was also waiting. When he asked me why I was taking pictures of the Matisse print on the wall above his head, I barely paused before the words came out, clear and calm: “I’m an artist. I think it’s wonderful to see artwork here in this otherwise very drab waiting room. It’s something beautiful for patients to look at, and I’m going to write about it on my blog.”
I want to record beauty. Especially when I find it in unlikely places. I am an artist, and I not only record beauty, I create it. I can’t help it. Wherever I am, whatever I’m doing, I’m creating something, and in my eyes, it’s always beautiful.
My office at Kookmin just popped into mind. It was like a home, and when people walked in, they were always taken aback. “Wow! Your office! It’s so beautiful!” To me, it wasn’t just an office. It was a place to MEET, to BE, to THINK, to FEEL, and to REFRESH. It was a place of beauty.
A few pottery pieces from college sat artfully on the bookshelves. An earth-tone carpet with a sort of Indian design that I brought from home because we got a new one made the floor warm and pretty to walk on. Hanging from the ceiling two paper parasols from Beijing, one blue and one yellow, transformed the florescent light filtering through them and swayed ever so slightly overhead.
On the door was a welcome sign, and right inside the door the tea and coffee pots were always ready to serve, along with an assortment of teas and unusual teacups and mugs gathered from my regular forays to the Beautiful Store. In the front part of the room was a large conference table that sat 6 comfortably, good for meetings with students and friendly get-togethers with colleagues. Anna and I kept a stash of Choco Pies at the ready for such occasions, and sometimes they managed NOT to get eaten before the guests arrived.
Behind the folding screen were our two desks, and what I always referred to as the ‘inner sanctum.’ Only intimates were invited to come through the screen to sit on the pink velour loveseat or the sling chair with the throw pillow and footstool. You could let your hair down there. You could take off the teacher persona, and RELAX. You could look out the window at the Bukak Mountain forests below and dream. It’s a wonderful memory, and comes along with the happy thought that Anna is still there to enjoy it.
Which brings me to the point about leaving something beautiful behind. When I came to Belgium I left my office to Anna, our apartment to Chiara, and the Coffee Morning to the IWK members. Life changes. We move on. It happens, and when it does it often feels like dying. But then there’s the satisfaction of knowing that someone is still being moved by the beauty left behind long after the creator has gone.
This summer was spent working intensely on moving out of our old place and settling into a new one. The new apartment needed “refreshing,” yes, but it also needed to be “beautified.” Whoever lived here before didn’t seem to have cared much about that. For me, it was impossible to ignore. From the moment I saw the place I was already redoing it in my mind. Then came the manual labor of turning the vision into reality: scraping, cleaning, measuring, cutting, tiling, painting, wallpapering, laying new carpet and linoleum, rewiring, and finally furnishing. My hands were confident, but my body was getting tired.
It was a DIY project from the beginning ~ one we’ve done over and over again wherever we’ve found ourselves living. When you start beautifying one area, suddenly the spot next to it looks worse than it did before, and you have to keep going. Four months and 700 Euros later, we’re basically done and we can live here now.
Jean has his office, and I have mine. I love my new studio/office/living room. It’s the most spacious room in our house. It’s where we meet friends and neighbors, and serve them coffee and Belgian tartes or chat on the couch (the inner sanctum). It’s where I make my Tea Talks, do artwork, talk on SKYPE to YOU, upload my photos and write in my blog. It’s where I pick up my guitar and work on new songs, where I sit and think and write in my journal, and where I light my candle and get down on the floor to pray.
It’s a place of beauty, and a joy to behold.
The Inner Sanctum