Friday, 24 January 2020

The Art Heist...Valuing ourselves and our work and how I became Mark Rothko

Dear friends and readers, 

This time of year is great for getting cosy-warm and storytelling by firelight. 
...And for reading, dreaming and remembering...long walks at nightfall and running in dark woods with wolves wearing our favorite cloaks. 



Yesterday I thought about my mother. And remembered something about her, something she did I found very strange and almost unbelievable. Something she did with one of my paintings. 

Sometimes the best way to understand things is to write about them, journal them out in expressive ways, share our stories and raw truths can resolve, complete cycles and close chapters - nail lids on their coffins - remember and let go, but never lose the lesson. 

"You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better."  ~ Anne Lamott

Here is my story. 

When I was in New Zealand in my mid twenties, I created a very unique, original piece of art work. It was a large oil pastel painting of a Crimson Phoenix, raising up from ashes and flames, set against a graduated dark royal purple and bright aqua-turquoise background. 

After many, many hours, and long days of intense focus, this vast artwork was finally completed and I set about placing it under glass inside a very clean-looking white wooden frame. A recycled frame. 

This lovely square frame once contained an art print, of quite a famous painting by an American artist called Mark Rothko - 'untitled' - but known as "Purple, White and Red".  Painted in 1953, it can be seen in the Art Institute Chicago collection and over here: https://www.artic.edu/artworks/100472/untitled-purple-white-and-red

My ex-partner (who I owned a house with at the time) had been given this framed print as a gift when he left his accounting job in the City. He didn't care that much for it so he gave the frame to me. The print was taken out and the frame left empty to be re-used. 

And so my Crimson Phoenix found it's way into that huge white frame, where it hung on the wall, over the fireplace for several happy years. 

I never thought to take the sticker off the backing board on the frame - it still had Mark Rothko named and the painting title on it, as the painting within was personal to me and was created solely for myself. 


A few years later we sold the house and I was leaving New Zealand to head out into the world looking for adventure.  I left the Crimson Phoenix in safe keeping at my Mother's house to be collected later. Or so I thought. 

My mother and sister didn't believe I would be gone for long, six months or so maybe at most they said, and then I'd come back home again after a 'long holiday', with my tail between my legs, so they didn't bother even coming out to the airport to see me off or say goodbye. 

I travelled up via Buenos Aires, and on again up to Rio de Janeiro, finally arriving in England where I settled in a tiny town in Somerset. Two years passed I decided it was time to pay a visit to the old homeland once more... so back to New Zealand I went on Christmas Eve 2003, for a three week stay. It also felt like a good time to collect my Crimson Phoenix on this visit, to roll it up and take it back to England with me. 

Only the oil pastel painting had now mysteriously disappeared. 

When I asked my mother where it was, she absolutely refused to discuss it. How curious (?!?)

My sister finally revealed the truth.  She filled me in on what had happened - that my mother had seen the sticker on the back-board of the painting saying 'Mark Rothko - Purple, White and Red' and proceeded to telephone around various Art Galleries to enquire as to the value of this original Mark Rothko work of art. How much was it worth?

When she was told, "He never painted phoenixes" she was adamant and simply refused to believe it saying, "it IS an original! She could see the strokes and marks of my pastels through the glass. 

As far as she was concerned it was definitely an original Rothko.  
and having now gotten some idea of what the value of this 'original' might be, she then advertised my artwork in a free-listing paper and sold it for a small fortune.  

Apparently the buyer was a flamboyant same-sex orientated gentleman who owned a hairdressing salon on Parnell Road (or perhaps Ponsonby Road) both up-market areas of Auckland and wanted it for his salon. 

To say I was flabbergasted by the whole thing is an understatement. 

Never once had my mother thought to check in with me and ask if this painting was still wanted by me.  She could find the inclination to ring around art galleries of course asking for a value, but never once flicked me across an email or a quick phone call to check in with me first. 

And any questions as to the purchase price paid and the 'presumed value' of this Crimson Phoenix were brushed under a rather large magic carpet. This was simply never going to be allowed to be discussed again. And to this day there has never been a single word of apology or financial recompense.

I never imagined my painting could be misinterpreted as someone else's work. Imagine selling someones handmade art without their consent? 

It draws some interesting questions about how we 'value' ourselves and our artwork, how that is measured and by whom? And what happens when your value is based on the premise that you are (or might be) someone else entirely? What are we worth to ourselves? What healthy boundaries need to be set, and maintained for the safe-guarding of our artistic life?

As many of my readers will already know, I have been on a long journey of exploring Jungian depth psychology, archetypes and the hidden messages from the subconscious and in fairytales and how these show up and appear in our waking lives. 

There are some interesting things to ponder if I look below the surface of this bizarre situation. A Phoenix that rises from the ashes for one. And my mothers relationship to my art... and how I noticed she would always change the subject immediately to something else whenever I would mention some small success I was having - like a painting of mine having been commissioned/licensed for publication in an article for a popular American health magazine.  That sort of pattern repeating became very noticeable over time.

I have looked in and out of, skirted around and delved deeply into lessons of archetypal 'Mother' and how that manifests and plays out when she is the shadow mother; the unacknowledged mother, the forbidden, disowned, disavowed destroyer mother, cruel and neglectful mothers, narcissistic mothers, jealous, competitive mothers, evil step mothers (stepmothers get such a bad rep in fairytales don't they? Along with wolves and witches). Our society has a tendency to make it forbidden to criticize the 'mother'.

And then there is the mother wound, and the 'un-mothered daughters' and the un-mothered children who came from mothers who weren't ready to be mothers, or didn't really want to be mothers at all, or who were just sadly going through the motions, 'conforming' to what they thought societies expectations were, and had children because that was "what you did in those days".

Watching the tv series 'Mad Men' really helped me understand the culture and kind of society my parents came out of in the late 1960's and into the 1970's. For the main part, you got married and you had children. It was the more radical, non-conformists who went against that flow. 

These days I am more interested in the healing, nurturing mothers, supportive kind mothers, gentle and wise mothers, the compassionate caring mothers, creative mothers,  generous-loving mothers, passionate, holistic mothers.  The wolf and horse mothers, coyote and crow feather mothers, the eagle-claw mothers, the paint splashed, wild-haired, herb growing witchy mothers... Remembering... and the healing blessing ways of Mothering (and re-Mothering) ourselves to wholeness.

Stepping it up as I Self-Parent myself from my own safe and loving, wise inner Mother.  

"The bond that links your true family is not one of blood but of respect and joy in each other's lives. Rarely do members of the same family grow up under the same roof." ~ Richard Bach.

Here's to making art and expressing ourselves (with or without encouragement and support) and knowing the Sacred Mother in ways that are nurturing for us. 

Love and blessings, 
Catherine Athena xo

• • •My journey through the senses• • •
taste:: Hot buttered toast and Pumpkin soup - Fairytale-worthy winter day nourishing.
smell:: Cinnamon and violets
touch:: Needle and thread gliding
see:: "Little Women" (written for the screen and directed by Greta Gerwig) = Psychic Soul Food
hear:: Heather Nova -Oyster
think:: I can see the first signs of Springtime approaching!
feel:: LOVE and letting go.
read:: Untie the Strong Woman : Blessed Mother's Immaculate Love for the Wild Soul - Dr Clarissa Pinkola Estés.
intuit::Telling the truth, telling our stories is healing on so many levels

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