Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Leaving an Impression

Looking on Facebook at images of Tom Seghi and what he created, a niece wrote

...of two paintbrushes (one big and one small) that look like they have been used to paint numerous canvases. They are hanging together on a blank canvas ready to paint their next masterpiece...
reminds me of you & him and all the things you both created together, Auntie Laya. What a beautiful image...

But seeing the image on a flat screen can be deceptive.  In two dimensions it's difficult to perceive that the large brush is painted on canvas, while the small brush is an actual brush. From a distance, they both look painted (or "real").  Both brushes - the painted one and the actual one - have actual wires attached, making them appear suspended.  Watching people view the brush paintings and "get" the play on reality has been a source of delight for both Tom and me over the years. 

One of Tom's favorite art techniques was "tromp l'oeil," (French, literally 'deceives the eye',  an illusion created by extremely realistic imagery that makes the subject of the painting appear 3-D).  Using paint on canvas, he loved playing with the idea of what's real.  The fruit he painted often evoked the response, "It looks so real I could take a bite out of it."

Now that he's gone, I see yet another layer of meaning in his play with the concept of what's real or not.  Just as my niece suggested, Tom and I are indeed like those two brushes,  I am here in 3-D, and his impression remains, vivid as can be, but no longer "actual." He is in one dimension and I'm in another.

Mysticism has been an interest of mine for years; I've had a natural affinity for it from early on.  A key aspect of mysticism is the awareness of different dimensions of reality. There is a world that we see and there are invisible worlds.  In Jewish mysticism (I hesitate to say Kabbalah so as not to confuse it with the ever expanding Kabbalah business that promotes its own published books, red strings for protection and holy water at high prices), the concept of RESHIMU brings to mind what Tom was doing in his painting.

To quote from a website about Jewish mysticism (www.innerorg/worlds/reshimu.html) , the reshimu is compared to the fragrance of the wine which remains in the glass after having been poured out of it.  The reshimu is the consciousness of knowing that one has "forgotten."  It is the consciousness which arouses one to search for that which he has lost, the awareness that God is "playing" with His creation, as it were, a Divine game of "hide and seek."

Tom is in the invisible world now but he has left a profound impression here in this world - in the memories people hold of him, in his artwork, in his children and grandchildren that carry on the life he engendered in them.  For me especially, the question arises about how to traverse the different worlds, how to stay in touch with what I lost.   What is real? I ask myself, and I remember the Taoist dream of Chuang Tzu:

"I dreamed I was a butterfly, or was I a butterfly dreaming I was me?" 


  1. what fooled me in this painting is that neither brush is centered on the canvas, and I looked at it for a long time and could not tell which is which... if the painted brush was centered, then it would clue the viewer right away, but it was not! and in every other painting by Tom, the object painted is at the dead center of the canvas. In fact, the symmetry,visual balance, and "centerness" of his paintings is what gives the viewer (at least this one..) a sense of harmony,calm and "togetherness". I found these qualities to reflect his own nature as a person, and not just as a painter. It is as if he wanted the people looking at his paintings, to have that pleasant sense of calm and well being.

    This discussion emerged from Gabe and Danny's tribute to their father, on point 7:11 minutes, where the "brush painting" strikes the screen, and makes you stop and ponder...Thank you Laya for bringing it up, so I could go back to it and look further and deeper..

  2. Laya, this is an incredible piece of writing.
    Of course I thought I was looking at two "real" paintbrushes and was amazed to learn that Tom had painted one of them! The analogy to the two of you in different dimensions blew me away. Art is such a powerful medium to help us to "get" something. I intuitively understood some of what you are experiencing in your grief, which can't really be put into words, from your description of the painting. I could sense the feeling of the other being there but just out of reach . . . And the other layer is that the painting itself was a joy that you and Tom shared as you watched others try to grasp it.
    I am drawn towards mysticism every moment of every day. Always I am aware that I've forgotten something. Moments of birth and death are very powerful for sensing the thinness of the veil between the worlds.
    Laya, I can't thank you enough for sharing your thoughts, feelings, and ideas at this time in your journey. It is such a blessing to be in your presence as you are so linked to the unseen. I don't mean this in any to undermine the pain that you are in, rather I am in awe that you can share this wisdom, as terribly excruciating as the experience that is bringing it to you is.
    I only hope and pray that the rest of us can have something to offer you as precious as what you are offering to us with your words.
    Your words on the page are strong, but I know they are probably in some way partially holding you together after trauma.
    Our hearts are with you . . . .

  3. Laya,
    I value staying in touch w/ you this way
    and your ideas; they take me beyond the narrow world in which I live. I have been on a search for a long time for what I am missing.
    One thing that is interesting to me now is how Tom, who we had not seen in a long time, is now more "alive" in our thoughts, those of Eddie and me. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

  4. Here's a comment from my dear friend Sharon Franco of Santa Fe, NM - (like many of us, technically challenged):

    Laya, I love everything you wrote here about you and Tom, the painting and the different levels of reality. I'm especially intrigued by the idea of reshimu--what's present by its absence.Divine play indeed.
    And here's another twist that comes to my mind when we speak of different worlds and Chuang Tzu's dream: Plato's metaphor of the Cave. I can't remember it exactly, but I know Plato thought that this world was a shadow of the "real" world, the world of Forms. He said we saw reality as though we were in a cave with a light behind us. What we think is real is just the shadows being projected on the wall in front of us from the reality behind us, which we never perceive, except indirectly (reshimu?). And art, he said, was therefore but a shadow of a shadow. But maybe it's a shadow that leads us to the real, as you suggest when you talk about Tom's brush painting. Which was the "real" brush? Maybe Tom is now in the "real" world and we perceive him and it only indirectly, thinking our world of shadows is the real one. We only get hints of the other in this world, but how could it be otherwise?
    So, sticking to this world, I want to add that seeing the brush painting reminds me of the time I visited you guys in St. Louis and went to see the Jim Dine show at the Art Museum. I bought that Dine poster of a big heart and Tom took me to his gallery to shrink wrap it for me so I could take it back on the plane with me. It's hanging in my house to this day, another reminder of Tom, his ingenuity, and his big heart.

  5. And another follow up message from Sharon in Santa Fe:

    I woke up realizing that when I wrote you about the Jim Dine heart print in connection with Tom's "big heart" I wasn't even thinking of his faulty bodily heart. So here we have the same set of levels as with the brush painting: there's Jim Dine's beautiful image of a heart--a shadow of a shadow, according to Plato, leading us to think about Tom's nonearthly heart (Plato's "ideal form" maybe) while also reminding us of this limited earthly plane (the faulty physical heart). Whew!

  6. From Jackie Clason in Vineyard Haven, MA:

    Dear Laya, What a beautiful gift to those of us that love you and struggle with loss ourselves. Your writing has also created a perfect circle of suffering and understanding. Thank you for your insight, your vulnerability and your trust.
    Love, Jackie

  7. I am so grateful for those of you brave enough to post comments. It gives me so much food for thought!

    Zila, thank you for bringing Tom's "center" into view, something I wasn't consciously aware of before as you described it so astutely, in his painting & his life;

    Molly, you know how to read me at so many different levels;

    Wendy, thank you for staying connected this way... it's so good to expand a narrow view & I'm glad that Tom has come more 'alive' for you lately;

    Sharon, I've always been drawn to Plato's metaphor of flickering shadows of that other -even more real- reality & now more than ever. Also, YES to Tom's big heart, ideal and real;

    Jackie, to perfect the circle from suffering to understanding is an ideal I would love to achieve, but perhaps it's a spiral as the suffering keeps circling around again too...