Liv

Wren Painting by Liv circa 1990

Wren Painting by Liv circa 1990

This painting by Liv brings back some memories for me. I think of it as being quintessential Liv. The bird is a reoccurring theme in her art. I’m not sure if it was this painting or something very much like it, she used to have hanging in her haircutting studio back in the early 1990’s when I first met her. A wren with some kind of energy radiating outward.

Liv has never been one for conforming to social convention, but at the same time she doesn’t stand out and shout her rebellious nature. Once you get to know her you realize that it comes from honesty, her challenging herself to be honest with herself. Sometimes she will challenge others to be honest with themselves as well but she doesn’t push it far, she knows when to stop. What does this have to do with birds one may wonder? The bird has the freedom and independence other animals don’t have. It is not bound to the earth in the same way the rest of us animals are. So we can imagine they are more true to themselves, less impacted by the social mores of their peers. The wren in this picture is unbound and shining forth.

My friend Aaron and I had started a publication we called “The Green Collective”. It is another one of my past endeavors like the “Writers’ Chapbook” that has not rested well in my memories. It was again a publication, one that we had hoped could bring like-minded people together for the purpose of creating a more a “Green” world. This of course was before the Internet, before smart phones, before cell phones even. Santa Cruz seemed like in ideal place for something like this to work. The core idea was mine but my friend Aaron had the kind of energy and initiative that could turn a crumb of an idea into an intricate manifestation before you knew it. He built small stands and placed them around town at locations where people might pick up a free publication. The contents were made up of announcements for groups or individuals who wanted to make connections for such things as recycling, teaching, offering services, things for sale and get-togethers. All the ads were free, it was a kind of Craigslist but with a slant toward being environmentally conscious.

Liv was an early and very constructive participant in this endeavor of ours. I don’t recall her ever coming into PaperArt but she may have. Mostly I remember going over to her trailer out on the east side to have my hair cut. That was one of the ads she ran in the Green Collective, she cut hair and she did massage therapy. I remember her touch and how she would position my head, much differently than I was used to. It was what I would call a “knowing” touch, soft but persuasive. That is when I first learned that she was an artist. She displayed some of her artwork on the wall, among them was this picture of a wren.

Even then she had the habit of painting over the picture frame and making it part of the painting. Instead of art being presented on a platter, the art spills out and bleeds into everything. It was a look that bothered me at first, until I realized what it said about Liv. Liv doesn’t compartmentalize, as most people do. She lives her life consistently and honestly (of course there are always exceptions) to a much higher degree than the average person. Most of us are given to rationalizations, to help piece our lives together and make them fit into our rather restrictive social structures. Liv uses rationalizations to a much lesser degree.

I think of her art as reminiscent of cave paintings, using symbols that resonant with a collective past. She told me once that much of what she paints come to her in flashes, sounding to me very similar to what many people have described as “visions”. When most of us think of “visions” we think of them being a special kind of thing, in fact most religions were based on the long ago “visions”of certain people. But Liv spoke of these visions matter-of-factly as if they were just regular occurrences and something that anybody had access to if they were paying attention. Though she didn’t say it in the same words, I think we shared the belief that all good art attempts to tell that collective story. Liv’s art as well as her visions are her way of reconnecting with that collective past.

I looked forward to going over to her trailer for my haircuts. She always greeted me warmly. She had this trait in common with Sandy, but Liv didn’t apologize for anything. She presented herself proudly, though her studio was very humble. She brought a focus to her work that made me feel at ease. As I sat in her chair, which may have just been a tall kitchen chair, I looked at the wall in front of me. I remember this wren picture being on that wall. We talked about it a bit, I thought it was a very light-hearted painting, a cheerful little picture. But after talking with her I could tell she took her art very seriously. She wasn’t simply someone who does a little art on the side, Art was an integral part of her being.

I examined her painting a little more closely. There are so many different things that artists are trying to accomplish with their work. With Liv it wasn’t immediately clear to me. As we talked I learned that she seemed to make no attempt at selling her work or putting it in shows, but somehow it was major piece of her life. She declared that she was first and foremost an Artist. This other work of haircutting and massage were just ways of supporting herself so she could pursue Art.

The wren with its tail pointed upward, its rapid high pitched song and its quick jerky movements is a very classic bird. Either the wren or the sparrow are what someone who is asked to draw a “bird” would most likely draw. When I look at the painting of Liv’s I see the classic bird energy emanating outward. It touches the earth lightly if at all, it searches for small twigs to build its nest, barely disturbing the bushes or tree as it builds. It eats tiny insects, able to sustain its life off the smallest bits of food. Its compatible with people but mostly shy. It is a pleasant bird to be around. Its life force is brilliant and joyful with a voice which is uplifting to our own spirits. Its voice is the background soundtrack of nature, a sound we all listened to as we evolved into what we are now. Looking at this painting now, it seems more symbolic of Liv’s inner life.

This is not to say Liv is like a wren, but I think she identifies with its energy. Another thing I remember about Liv in those haircutting days, was she was open and frank about her sexuality. It was kind of refreshing. Our social traditions tended to keep women from verbalizing their sexuality, and still do to a lesser degree. She was attracted to men, especially men younger than herself by about ten or more years. I fit that category but didn’t get the sense she was attracted to me. On a couple of my haircut visits she had some provocative pictures on her wall. One was a painting of a flower-like vulva ala Georgia O’Keefe but a little more vulva and less flower. The second one was a black and white photo of herself, naked full-frontal lying on a rock, very Edward Weston-like. She had a thin and attractive body and I have to admit I didn’t mind looking at it. I knew better than to take these as signs she had some romantic interest in me. Liv spoke her own mind without resorting to the unspoken clues. The human body is the foundation of so much art and this was probably a period of examination for her. Most likely she put it on  her wall to reference it from time to time, perhaps hoping to get a little feedback on it as well.

The thing I remember liking best about Liv was her mind-reading ability. Of course no one can read minds, there is no magic, just people who are more able to read signs and pick up clues than other people. This was a comforting feeling because I felt I didn’t have to verbalize well when communicating with her. I was never good at putting my thoughts together quickly, I always resorted to writing- allowing myself more time. I felt comfortable expressing feelings to her in a way that I couldn’t with other people. She often acted the role of therapist, maybe even better than a therapist because she shared her own feelings as well. She also seemed to have a knowledge of men and their emotions that most women didn’t possess. She was mostly sympathetic toward men but seemed to hold no starry-eyed notions about them either. Much later I she told me something about her earlier life that gave me a clue as to where her ability to read men came from. I now wonder if this wren, this shy song bird of the bushes isn’t a reference (maybe even subconscious) to her late childhood.

Claire

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