Journey 321: Into the Light

Today’s journey could be called The Artwork of Steve Head, Part Two. I wrote about Steve Sunday, after visiting his amazing exhibit, titled Family Secrets, currently on display at Joplin Avenue Coffee Company. I had the pleasure of attending an artist talk by Steve this morning, at the same location. 

 

As I shared Sunday, Steve’s art visually tells the stories of his family and his childhood. Steve carried shame throughout most of his life, because of situations in his family history that included alcoholism, poverty, illiteracy and mental illness. What he discovered three years ago, as he began to create his mixed media art collages, was that by bringing those painful family stories into the light, he bathed his own heart and soul in healing light as well.

This morning, Steve quietly shared the stories behind the stories captured in his artwork. A hushed group sat around him, deeply respectful of such vulnerability, and emotionally impacted by his words. I heard about Steve’s great-grandfather, featured in the piece, “Bringing Phelix Home”, and his grandmother, Mary, whose story is portrayed in “Lost and Found”. Both family members spent time in a mental hospital in Oklahoma, in the 1920’s and 1930’s. Their lives were hidden in obscurity, until Steve, who never met Phelix or Mary but felt an emotional connection to both, brought them into the light through his art. 

  

I listened as Steve described his challenging childhood. As a young boy, he wanted to be an artist. In school, he considered himself a B or C artist, rather than an A. He questioned whether he was good enough, talented enough, to succeed. A family member seemed to confirm his doubts, telling him, sarcastically, “Oh, you will do great wonders.” One of my favorite pieces, after today, is “Great Wonders” which captures Steve and his younger brother as boys, sitting in boxes, carried high into the sky by a hot air balloon with those two words printed across it. 

  
Thankfully, Steve recently began to explore just how incredibly talented and artistic he is, as he simultaneously delved into his family’s past. As he acknowledged the shame that he carried, recognizing that although outwardly whole, he was inwardly very wounded, Steve sought healing through creative expression by also acknowledging his family.

One of the most tender stories told this morning was of Steve’s older sister, Irma, who was diagnosed with schizophrenia at the age of nineteen. Irma eventually became a ward of the state of California, residing in a care facility. As a child, Steve felt uncomfortable and embarrassed when he visited his sister, lacking understanding perhaps, of the devastation the disease afflicted on her. He shared that as a young woman, she was often compared to actresses Rita Hayworth and Lucille Ball. In an attempt to cling to those compliments, and duplicate Lucy’s scarlet lips, Irma would apply lipstick with less than satisfactory results, creating more discomfort in Steve. His art piece, “Irma’s Beauty”, lets the world know that this is his sister and he no longer feels the old shame, but rather love, respect and compassion for her. 

  

When one is as courageous as Steve, in so transparently sharing his life, his wounding and his healing, it bestows courage on others. I sat with the weight of his childhood upon me, and then realized it was the weight of my own that I felt instead. Steve shared a quote that said, “You are only as sick as your secrets.” What truth. We all have our secrets. We all have family members that we would rather not talk about. We are all the walking wounded, with hearts and souls pierced by a thousand darts from our childhoods. 

Seeing Steve’s artwork, hearing of the redemption that he gained, for himself and his family, I considered what that might feel like in my own life if I could shine that bright healing light into some of the dark corners that remain from my own childhood. I feel so inspired to see what creativity can recover and redeem within me. That’s the powerful effect of the artwork of Steve Head. It not only sheds light on his life, but spills over onto all who spend time gazing into his art, into stories that, at a soul level, represent us all.

  

Journey 319: Out of Shame

Today was “date” day, as suggested in the book The Artist’s Way, where I take my inner artist, my creative child, on an excursion. I have really enjoyed these solitary outings, as opportunities to encourage and have fun with my artistic side. 

  
I came up with an idea for a date yesterday, but this morning, I felt unsure. I had something I needed to do this afternoon. As if placating a reluctant child, I talked up the date to my inner artist. “It will be fun, right? We can do this and I can take care of that, deal?” No deal. This morning I checked the Connect2Culture Facebook page, scrolling through art opportunities available in Joplin today. One grabbed my attention. Titled Family Secrets: The Storytelling Artwork of Steve Head, this exhibit was featured at Joplin Avenue Coffee Company downtown. 

I was immediately intrigued. Steve and I are Facebook friends and we play Words with Friends together online. I’ve never met Steve but I feel like I know him because of our connection. I kept that idea foremost in my mind for my afternoon outing. 

  
And then the magic happened, as has been the case the past three weeks. After considering the exhibit as a possibility for my date with myself, I read the chapter for Week Three in The Artist’s Way, Recovering a Sense of Power. Julia immediately goes into the emotion of Anger (I want to explore this further before sharing) and the wonders of Synchronicity. I live with constant synchronicities, otherwise known as coincidences. Today was synchronous! I’ve written before and will again about how these amazing events guide my journey. 

  
The last emotion Julia wrote about was Shame. She says, “Those of us who get bogged down by fear before action are usually being sabotaged by an older enemy: shame.” She goes on to say that making art may feel a lot like telling a family secret. Wait a minute.  

Back I went to the info about Steve Head’s exhibit, Family Secrets. I opened a link and read more. Steve shares that his show features work about his own family and childhood. He tells his story through the use of mixed media and digital collage that incorporates vintage black and white photos of his family. Steve’s family history has members who suffered from poverty, alcoholism and mental illness. 

  
Steve wrote that for most of his life he carried a huge void in his heart, where love and nurturing during his childhood should have been. And a soul full of SHAME for who he thought he was and what happened to him in his family. His healing came as he acknowledged the shame and overcame it. His art, now on exhibit, allowed him to bring the pain he experienced into the light. Reading that, seeing that it dealt with shame, I knew the exhibit was my destination for the afternoon. 

  
They were beautiful, the pieces of art, and poignant. Joplin Avenue Coffee Company was strangely quiet when I arrived, although it filled up as I was leaving. I had time to savor a cup of hot tea while I studied the displayed works of art. I asked Steve’s permission, via messaging, to take pics of his art and write about his exhibit in my blog. He graciously granted it. I have those pics interspersed throughout the post. 

His piece Lost and Found tells the story of his grandmother, Mary. I stood before it the longest, looking at the collage and reading her story on the card below. It is a sad tale. Steve doesn’t try to hide that. Instead he gently sheds light on her story, one of a painful life that ended in an Oklahoma mental hospital. Mary’s journey was shrouded, until Steve uncovered it. Redemption for both of them comes through his marvelous creative expression. 

  
I was contemplative as I drove away. My family did not shame me. The shame I felt as a young child arose around my nighttime fears, and the fact that my crying at night disturbed my parents. I’m the one who decided that my tears bothered my mom and dad. I chose not to cry anymore. The shame I’ve felt my whole life around weeping is because I didn’t want to bother anyone. 

I spoke aloud in the car, “Little Cindy…Little One…it’s okay…” That’s all I managed to say before emotion closed off my throat. But I sent the four year old within soundless words of love and grace and acceptance. At last I finished with a whisper, “…it’s okay to cry. There’s no shame in being afraid. You can cry and it won’t bother anyone.” I know she was listening. 

  
Steve’s exhibit, Family Secrets, is on display at Joplin Avenue Coffee Company until Novembet 29. He has art at Spiva Center for the Arts as well and at Rose Gallery on N Range Line. Many pieces are for sale. Check out his art and future events at www.facebook.com/head2art and stop by the coffee shop this Tuesday morning, 9:00-10:30, for an artist talk and meet and greet.