Paintings from Sunset Series by Spence Munsinger, Color Field + Blank White Canvas + Realism + Contemporary Abstract Art, original paintings for sale

"I hate flowers - I paint them because they're cheaper than models and they don't move. ”
― Georgia O'Keeffe

To a friend who got hit with the worst news

My daughter could not talk on the phone.
She had fought leukemia for a year and was about to find
out her body had lost.

We didn’t know that yet (though I was very afraid)
But I did know I loved her.

And I wrote her (in text) then what I write here for you.
Because I find it to be true.

This life you have now,
that’s not all there is.
You will leave this body
behind someday.
You will remain.
And you will still be.
You the being who is my daughter do not die.
I will always love and cherish you, whether I leave this
existence first or you do.

it’s not a win or lose battle against your cancer.
You will still exist and you will still be
loved no matter the outcome.
love, –dad

Let me know when you have read that message
above – that one is important. Love, –dad

Reply: I read it.    smiley

Love you. –dad

Reply: Love you too.

Text to Ash

 

No Words At First, Just Images and Adab…

Adab…

“The demanding memory that comes to you of itself…”
from Frank Herbert’s Dune

dunes


I bought a book by a father who lost his eighteen-year-old daughter to cancer.  The concept I had of the book from reviews of it was a collection of memories of the girl, a relating of the process of searching for a cure and a log of how the two on them approached and handled the idea of her dying and how they dealt ultimately with knowing she was going to pass away.  There was mention of artwork and poetry and healing, at least in my imagination.

It was not the book I thought it would be, when it arrived, not the book I needed.  Not a bad book.  I am just in a state where I had very explicite expectations and the desperate need for a particular book, a book this was not.  And I’m not in a place to accept the difference, to accept a book that isn’t pretty much exactly that.   That book, I think I may have to write for myself.

That’s how I started painting.

I always had the need to draw on paper, to capture visual memory and visual creation.  tBut these drawings were small drawings, not ambitious works.  I started painting when I began making things that I would want to hang on my wall.  I was in high school, had no money, couldn’t afford posters.  I painted images I wanted to see, visions that would inspire, enliven my world, create a sense of wonder and awe and that ethereal sense of beauty.

Now we come to writing.  I’m trying to capture what I was hoping to find, what I had expectations to find,  and then write that book.

Part of that capture is “ADAB”, the memory that comes of itself and demands attention and cognizance.

Finding the memories that are important to write about, that capture a word picture of who this woman, my daughter, was.  Why she was who she was. The stubbornness and strength of purpose and character that both helped her live beyond where the disease should have managed to kill her and ultimately helped her reach a place of peace when that life was no longer possible.

Part of that is working through images.

My images, the pictures I took of the “wall of IVs” when she was 42 days in ICU and induced coma and survived.  The memory images of her gaining strength through March and April and May.  Pictures, photographs of her at her birthday in 2010, 24 years old and beginning to look like a survivor, a cancer survivor.  Memories of November, when one side of her face was paralyzed and she was wearing a headband to cover the frightening shunt scar in her scalp.  The shunt that allowed chemo drugs to be dosed three times a week to kill leukemic cells hiding in her brain…  That was when the darkness started to climb back in, I can feel the shadows.  The frailty in December, the unbelievable surgical incision, literally opened up across the belly and ravaged to get a couple more weeks of life (which we did not know, she did not yet know… There was still hope there…).

Other’s images, especially Picasso – at nineteen his best friend kills himself in despair over a woman, and Picasso is devastated.  He works it out in the Blue Period, in images that are timeless.   Picasso’s “Evocation” , “La Vie”

burial of Casagemas La Vie


I want to paint my daughter as she was in my memory as baby, as that small chest rising and falling in a crib, as that child exultant,  riding without training wheels.

I want to paint her as she flowered into a vibrant young woman, learning to dream and to love.  I want to paint the devastation and joy of those first 42 days in ICU hell.  The ravaging leukemia created on her body, the frailness and fragility come on her suddenly.  The life force beneath forcing healing despite impossible adversary. Capture the paralysis on one side of her face, contrasted with the brilliant beauty that was there just before, and was still there, if you knew how to look.

That knowing how to look, that’s essential – showing that in a painting, giving that awareness to the person seeing it, someone who didn’t know Ash.  Knowing both what you see in the result of disease, what changes in the nature of the person physically, and seeing beneath that to the person within.  To both the qualities that are beauty and the pattern that is/was there in beauty, physical beauty, before.

People ARE beautiful in the forms that result from their lives – they lose that un-formed-ness I see in models – they are beautiful, but no character, no life in face or body.  These paintings should show both that outer form, the beauty hit by an adversary, but still there, and the inner strength and struggle of life to stay.  If I could find that, that would be something. Something to treasure.  I can feel the tears streaming blurring already.

I saw that.  That frailness and ethereal release in the last few days, when she knew she would not survive this.  A calm acceptance and treasure of each moment.

I promised Ashley I would paint sunsets from the pictures she took off the Redondo Beach Pier, and I will do that too.  But these images, that’s important too.


—spence


an urn for my daughter…

My daughter let go of life 3 January 2011. She was diagnosed with AMML (Leukemia) in January 2010. She stepped from chemo treatment to chemo treatment, hoping for cured, a very very tough journey that finally ended for her. I wanted a container for her ashes that reflected her life, the life in her, and the loss I have at her passing on…

 

ashley urn 01

 

This design started from a plate Ashley painted in Colorado in 1996 (aged 10 years). One of those creative kid things to do, and which over the years and many moves, I managed to keep safe and unbroken. Now it just seems so completely irreplaceable…

 

ash plate 1996

 

The urn I found is stainless steel with a copper finish. The shape is classic, perfect. Given time or a wheel and kiln I might have tried a pottery urn, glazed and fired. But this may be better. It will age, but it will always be a gift to my daughter. Not the last – there is the ongoing gift of cherishing her memory and speaking of her as the world continues to turn and she finds her new role in the universe.

 

ashley urn 02

 

ash urn 03

 

—spence

Ashley Lyn, you are loved and you are missed…

leaf at st josephs by ashley lyn
Leaf at St. Joseph’s Hospital by Ashley Lyn Munsinger

When Ashley was born, on a bright day in July,
her nickname was immediately “Bug,”
as in “cute as a bug.”

I went in to watch her sleep in her crib almost every night after we brought her home.
I watched her very small chest rise and fall.
That was a miracle.

Having this child meant being completely vulnerable to the whims of the universe.

I cast hope out into the future.
I get to watch over her and love her, forever.

When she was about three Ashley got quieter and quieter over several days.
Her doctor said she had pneumonia
and was hours from needing admittance to a hospital.

She got better.
But she scared me.

She rode her bike without training wheels in Lake View Terrace, CA.
She helped me build a coffee table in Boulder CO.
She sledded down the hill with our dog Samantha at the house in Milford MA.

She was golden blonde,
sunshine
and warmth.

She faded the winter she spent in Massachusetts,
so I sent her back to California.

Ashley traveled through Europe when she was fifteen.
She determined that Corfu was her favorite place on the planet.
She talked about that trip for years…

“When I was in France…”

Ashley studied International Business in New York City
She found she hated it.
She discovered space and color and form and balance and function.
She studied Interior Design, and she found she loved it.

She got quiet once again, this time over several months.
She was admitted to the hospital and we got word that she had leukemia.

By the time I got across the country from Boston to Los Angeles,
Ashley was on a ventilator and could no longer speak.

All of us,
all of you,
family and friends,
came together
and somehow we got her through the worst two months ever.

At the lowest point in that February I was holding Ash’s hand,
feeling the warmth of her still presence,
accepting each moment as a gift.

That diagnosis
and then that reality,
cancer patient,
Ash just accepted.

She looked ahead with true courage at each point in her journey
and asked,
“What next?”

Ashley knew she was dying that last week.
She found
the rare gift
in that
rather than the despair of it,
that ending.

I tried to find everything I needed to say to her, as her dad, as someone responsible for her and to her.
I came close enough.

She managed a death
at peace
and without despair or anxiety.

Her passing on was with eyes wide open.
She said “It’s over…”
and she meant this life, this struggle.

And then she asked
“What’s next?”
and she went on.

An expansion of being, rather than in any way diminished.

This breath holds the spirit to the body.

And so it was.
Ash let go
and the breath stopped.

ash at her birthday
July 2nd 1986 – 3rd January 2011

I will always miss her presence here.

koi pond by Ashley Lyn
Koi Pond at St. Joseph’s Hospital by Ashley Lyn Munsinger

art as focus, art as tool

I have an app on my iPhone called doodlebug. It’s perfect for exactly that, doodling, idling playing with color and line and form. I found the constriction of space (small screen…) and the limits of the touchscreen pushed for a kind of abstraction that I love.

house on hill

My daughter went into hospital and into the ICU and onto a ventilator and then onto an oscillating ventilator and then continuous dialysis and complete crisis with Acute Myelomonocytic Leukemia. For several days she was going deeper into shock. At the deepest point she was:

…which became, as I erased dead spaces:

shock erased

Like sand paintings – discovering process and focus through drawing. Did it bring about change? She lived.

— spence

opens her eyes and smiles…

This morning I got into the ICU – a normal thing, now. I get up, I get coffee, I drive or walk the 2.3 miles to the hospital. Bright clear cool dawn, or grey cloudy wet dawn, California winter. I come into the hospital through the EMERGENCY entrance. The main entrances aren’t opened until after 7 AM. There are always groups of people in the emergency waiting room. They look up, looking for a doctor or a nurse or someone to help them, and I’m none of those, but obviously not a patient. I go through some sort of sort I can see in their eyes. I pass through to the hall beyond. I check in with security and I walk down a long corridor, up one flight of stairs to the second floor and through motorized doors into the ICU/Critical Care Unit.

That’s become normal. Amazing what becomes normal. Racks of IVs – we are down to four active drips, from a high of 16. Chest tubes – three now, two on the left side, one on the right. The ventilator.

Critical but stable.

I walked in this morning and my daughter’s face lit up. She was breathlessly talking – breathlessly, literally – she cannot pass air through her throat to vocalize. I tried to read her lips and failed completely. But I was ecstatic in the attempt. She is awake, aware, frustrated, angry, recovering, healing.

ash_hands

—spence