Sunday, September 03, 2006

The black dog and the bathrobe


Winston Churchill was a tenacious old curmudgeon, who with great strength and resolve, lead England through one of its darkest periods in history. His world was literally crashing in around him yet he would take the time to go sit in a garden and do landscape painting. It was only by letting go of the left side of the brain, the logical, that he could see a little more clearly how to solve the problem he was confronting. Conflict resolution was not all that he was seeking. He was looking for a brief respite from his companion that he referred to as the black dog that sat in the corner. Winston Churchill was hounded by depression.

There are stories of various people that I have kept with me over the course of my life. I found the stories interesting and thought provoking. Also they resonated within me. I am writing about two such people. These two are very different individuals. They lived very different lives, in different countries, at different times in history. There were two qualities, though, that they did share.

The other person is the twentieth century American artist, Jim Dine. His work is somewhat figurative yet very bold and expressionistic. He is well known for a series of semi abstract paints of hearts. The series of his that had the most impact on me though, were his paintings of a single bathrobe. Even before I knew the story behind them, I was drawn to them. Jim Dine also suffered from depression. There were some days that he could not even get out of bed. When he did he would walk around wearing his old bathrobe. As his depression lifted and he slowly recovered the bathrobe became his subject. Perhaps it was symbolic of his journey back from the edge of darkness.


Because of my disability, OCD, I also suffer from bouts of depression. OCD and depression go hand in hand. The last few weeks I have been on that edge of darkness. It is a place that drains my energy, physical and creative, and leaves me exhausted and exhausts my family. It wreaks havoc with my familial relationships, as I become a dark and brooding person. I have to struggle against it to make the least attempt to do any drawing or painting. As much as it interferes with my art it also emboldens my painting. Like the old saying goes, “whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”

Once the cycle has completed itself and the fog lifts from my mind I fall in love with life all over again. To be creative is an affirmation of life, of all things living. Creativity is an affirmation of the wondrous mysteries of the universe. Without these forays to the edge of that dark plain I would not be able to fully appreciate the light, color, and love around me. To be left tired and listless makes me want to take advantage of my energy and passion when it returns. Making art is a reflection of what I, the artist, have found and experienced on my journey. It doesn’t matter if it is gray and dreary or bright, colorful and warm. Good or bad, right or wrong, dark or light, it is all part of my journey. This journey is my story and my paintings are the illustrations that I leave along the way.


Both paintings are done on prepared strathmore paper. The both measure 12.75" X 19.75". The lighter one was completed in 2004 and done in oil pastel. The darker version was done in 2006 and done in oil.

13 Comments:

Blogger Tracy Helgeson said...

Hi Ed, I have missed your comments on my blog and have been wondering how you are. I am sorry to hear that you've been in a depression, but I like your attitude about it, how you appreciate life so much more after a depressive bout. While I haven't had it as badly as you have, I have toyed with depression in the past, so I have a slight bit of understanding of what you are going through.

Love the first painting of the barn by the way.

8:43 PM  
Blogger Ed Maskevich said...

Thanks for your thoughts Tracy. Ever since I went on disability I have become more open in discussing depression and other issues. I am becoming an advocate and hopefully an educator about it and for it.

10:20 AM  
Blogger amber said...

Without dark I guess there is no light,maybe this means being aware of the dark makes you truely live the light ,when it's present more so than a even tempered person
I really like the first oil painting it's serious,full of meaning.

10:41 AM  
Blogger Lori Witzel said...

Ed, lovely deep-diving thoughts and humanity in this post.

As you saw in my fresh-from-the-oven poem, I'm no stranger to dark "weather."

Fortunately for me it passes without too much stick and drag. Not so for some of my family, and not so for some others I've known over time.

Contrast is a fine thing, but an excess does cause pain. I suppose the difference between sickness and "weather" is whether it curtails a person and hurts those around them.

Anyway...glad those clouds have scudded by both you and me for now. And don't mind me while I curl up near the two paintings you've posted -- they give a wonderful light.

4:46 PM  
Blogger Lesly said...

A very powerful post about a not-often-aired subject. Like other responders here I have had my tangles with depression so can understand a little of how it gets for you sometimes, Ed.

I sometimes wonder if depression isn't somehow linked to imagination and creativity ... so many 'artistic' souls seem to be, or have been, troubled in that way. Maybe its all down to brain chemistry.

Whatever it's cause I hope that you will continue to paint and write, and keep sharing both talents with us.

I think I like the second version of your painting the most, but its hard to choose!

5:13 PM  
Blogger Ed Maskevich said...

Why Ms. Lori, you make me blush.

Lesly, you are sooooo accurate in your observation of creativity and being troubled by brain chemistry (which is exactly what OCD is about). Creative types have a higher incident of depression and/or mental illnesses. Folks always did say I was crazy.

5:18 PM  
Blogger The Epiphany Artist said...

PEACE BE WITH YOU! God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, Mary, and all the Saints including your special angel are close to you- Here on earth. I know depression well. It is what draws us closer to God to spill our soul- But you must look up out of the hole towards the light painfully bright as it is.

6:20 PM  
Blogger Lori Witzel said...

No fresh Ed?

:-(

Am hoping the black dog didn't throw its bathrobe on you.

10:30 AM  
Blogger The Epiphany Artist said...

Hey!!! Rebuke it! What have you been up too? I hope painting!!!

10:54 PM  
Blogger Ed Maskevich said...

Sorry about my silence. A lot to think about these days. Alas, there is a new post.

5:59 PM  
Blogger Globetrotter said...

Fascinating story about Jim Dine. I wonder if suffering from depression goes hand and hand with an artistic temperment? I sometimes think that everyone is like me- depressed about the simplest things and thinking tortured thoughts on a daily basis about things that I have absolutely no control over. Then I talk to my husband and realize that his thoughts are never cloudy or mucked up. That's when I admit to myself that I've suffered from chronic depression my entire life and there's nothing I can do to change myself except enjoy the up times when they're there.

I love the colors in these paintings and especially the subtle blendings in the top picture .

8:50 AM  
Blogger Philip said...

Ed - it's never a good idea to recommend books to people but I can't help wondering if you would benefit from reading John O'Donohue's book Anam Cara (Soul Friend). For me, it was one of those life changing books that helped me make sense of my role in this crazy world. I have felt much more at ease with myself since reading it because John O'Donohue has a happy nack of writing about things that we all think but don't say. There is a link to his web site in my blog. It's not fashionable new age stuff by the way - its a very practical viewpoint on life.

By the way, I hope you don't mind me saying that I wish George Bush would take up painting ......

1:50 AM  
Blogger Martha Marshall said...

I'm with you Philip! (Seems I've said that on someone else's blog somewhere.) George seriously needs a hobby besides being the leader of the free world.

Seriously, Ed, I do believe it comes with being creative, and maybe it even goes hand in hand with the degree of your imaginative powers. The more you can imagine and think about the more you can get depressed. I do a little too much thinking these days, and channel it into art half the time and worrying about the news the other half.

2:26 PM  

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