"So, what are you afraid of?"
She asked me this, a few hours after we met. The two of us had waded out fully clothed into the Atlantic Ocean. The breaking waves were at our backs, a sliver of moon reflected unctuously on the dark water. The waves rolled in, serenely, just over our depth, lifted our feet from the sand, calling us to touch. I was 17, she maybe a year older. I stammered out a series of nervous answers, from sharks to nuclear war, before pontificating at length on my fear of living an unexamined life. But I was really reeling from a new fear, one far subtler and befuddling. In the past several hours, talking to her in the dunes, laughing amongst the rustle of beach grasses, I'd felt something in my chest open up. An ache become electric, a light shimmered through my torso and into my limbs. There was tightness at the back of my throat, a pressure towards song. If I'd answered her honestly in that moment, it would have had nothing to do with sea monsters or philosophy, and everything to do with love.
We made plans to meet at the fishing pier the next evening. I sat waiting in the salt air for a long time, but she never showed. I looked out at the dark line of the sea at the horizon, flat against the luminous glow of a clouded sky, until it started to drizzle, and I felt the urge to cry. Had I have been half as fearless as she, I would have wept. Instead I took a long walk down the beach shirtless in the rain, turning inland when I saw lightening far off at sea. I was away from my parent's home for the first time, on a beach vacation in South Carolina with the kids I formed a band with. Indestructible. Beautiful.
A few days later, a couple of detectives came to the beach house and brought us to the station. One by one, we were questioned and sized-up. Suspects. The night I had met this beautiful girl, the night we spoke of fear and I first felt erotic love, had been her last. She said goodnight to me with a tap on the shoulder as I urinated into the marram grass, and skipped off into the night forever, murdered along the coastal highway by some unimagined monster. For the past 23 years I've heard her clear voice deep in my heart, asking me what I'm afraid of. Urging me toward fearlessness and vulnerability. Reminding me that our time is brief and the hour is later than we realize. Her voice is with me when I start a new piece, and when I struggle with one I'm in the midst of. It's there whenever I feel the electric ache of love. It is with me even now as I write these lines. Her actual name may have been Amy, but over the years I've taken to quietly calling this voice Eurydice.
"Voice (Twilight and Dawn)" is the first painting I've ever made directly about this experience. The figures hold the constellation Lyra in their hands, which refers to the Lyre of Orpheus in Greek mythology. In the most popular form of the legend, Orpheus' wife Eurydice dies from snakebite, and his mournful singing moves all that hear it to cry. His plaintive song gains him entrance to the underworld, where his music causes even the vengeful Furies to weep, and softens the hearts of Hades and Persephone, who agree to allow Eurydice to return to him on one condition. He must walk in front of her, leading her through the darkness of the underworld with his song. He must not look back until they have both reached the upper world. In his anxiety to be reunited with her, he looks back as he enters the upper world, causing her to vanish forever.
There is something in that ancient story that speaks to the sweetness and brevity of life, the irretrievable quality of certain moments. It is our birthright to connect, to love, but in loving we also reckon with loss. Orpheus lost Eurydice, yet her spirit continued to shine through his song. In its melody weaving around the hearts of those who hear it, Orpheus' song gains universality. It ceases to be about the individual's loss. Instead, it calls us to come close to a great mystery, asking a haunting question that we must make our own.
Oil, Gold and Silver Leaf, Sgraffito and Pastiglia on Panel, 26 x 52.5 inches