For the most part, I enjoy doing commissions. I get approached from time to time to do them (mostly by friends and family), and I find myself having to be fairly choosy when it comes to which ones I want to take. To me, my decisions come down to three criteria: the story, technical challenge, and cost in terms of time and materials.
When the Shelton Family asked me to do this commission back in August, I was first struck by their story. The piece comes from a memory of when they were engaged at Montara State Beach, a beautiful moment situated right before a scary diagnosis that was foreshadowed by a sudden hospital stay in November.
As Jessica recounted her memory of her walk with Kevin down the beach at sunset, she shared this with me (published here with their consent):
He told me to look out over the ocean. He still had pain in his side from the November ER stay, so in order to get down on one knee I could feel his hands progress down my back, then my thigh, then my knee as he supported himself to get down to the sand.
I said Yes immediately and joined him on the sand and we sat and watched the ocean until it was almost dark. It was nice because no-one knew but us. He hadn’t told his parents, and hadn’t asked mine, so it was just ours.
And it was so quiet. Very insulated. And we thought that the medical stuff was behind us. So it was very much time out of mind, if that makes sense.
Very shortly after their engagement, Kevin was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer that had spread, making it Stage 4. He’s now been through 8 rounds of chemo and surgery and, I’m happy to report, the outlook is good. However, they didn’t know that a year ago. Instead of wedding planning, they had the turbulence of a year flying back and forth across the country to receive treatment, finding laughter and joy wherever, and as often, they could. They embarked on a journey supporting each other through what would be both the scariest times, and some of the happiest times (they got married in April 🙂 in their lives.
I sobbed when I heard their story (yeah, I cry a lot – so what), but I realized what Jessica wanted in the painting, was for it to be an eternalized memory of that fleeting, magical moment… a time without worry, and a moment that was only theirs. Jessica described the scene as having an ethereal pinkish glow… which I assured her was probably something she made up– but I struggled to incorporate it successfully into the painting.
I also struggled with depicting their profoundly moving emotions, but I wanted to encapsulate what Jessica had told me when describing that afternoon on the beach:
…Similar to that space between sleep and waking, where you’re totally relaxed and smiling at something whimsical in your dream that you, now that you think of it … you can’t quite remember … before you wake up and remember the scary truth of what’s going on.
… a break from the scariness and uncertainty that we thought at the time we’d just overcome, coupled with celebrating our whole life together, just around the bend.
As the scarecrow said, though: I think it’s going to get darker before it gets lighter.
We didn’t know that, then. And it got a whole helluva lot darker.
Now that we’ve fought through everything this past year, I guess what this painting – or that place – represents to me is a respite. A break from being scared. A place where things might be okay – but, more than that, a place where the problems don’t even exist so you don’t have to focus on just not thinking about it. It’s a world apart.
It’s my red dress from ‘Requiem for a Dream,’ my Jodie Foster moment at the end of ‘Contact. ‘
Thank you, Jessica and Kevin, for letting me be a part of such a special moment in your lives. Thank you, also for referencing “Requiem for a Dream,” which might actually be one of my favorite movies of all time. And Kevin, I sometimes have a hard time expressing in words how happy I am for you both right now, so the best I can do is give my love and care into creating this piece for you. I hope you take care of each other for ever and ever. I’ll be here, too.