Spirit of Reclamation, by Melissa Carmon. 35" x 57" Oil on Canvas
"Courage is almost a contradiction in terms. It means a strong desire to live taking the form of a readiness to die. 'He that will lose his life, the same shall save it," is not a piece of mysticism for saints and heroes. It is a piece of every day advice for sailors or mountaineers. It might be printed in alpine guide or a drill book. This paradox is the whole principle of courage, even of quite earthly or brutal courage. A man cut off by the sea may save his life if he will risk it on the precipice."
"He can only get away from death by continually stepping within an inch of it. A soldier surrounded by enemies, if he is to cut his way out, needs to combine is strong desire for living with a strange carelessness about dying. He must not merely cling to life, for then he will be a coward, and will not escape. He must not merely wait for death, for then he will be a suicide, and will not escape. He must seek his life in the spirit of furious indifference to it; he must desire life like water and yet drink death like wine. No philosopher, I fancy, has ever expressed this romantic riddle with adequate lucidity, and I certainly have not done so. But Christianity has done more: it has marked the limits of it in the awful graves of the suicide and the hero, showing the distance between him who dies for the sake of living and him who dies for the sake of dying."
The theme of the show for which this painting was made is the concept of reclaiming. While researching this concept, I began to think about the preconditions necessary for reclamation. When something needs to be reclaimed, it means that something else has overpowered it at least once. For example, land that needs reclaiming has been over powered by a negative force (like a flood, an oil spill, or toxic waste) that has damaged it. In people's personal lives, sometimes things are stolen, killed off or destroyed. Areas that need to be reclaimed are areas of brokenness: perhaps where there has been abuse, failure, addiction, doubt, betrayal, negligence or malice.
In order to reclaim something, a person has to exercise determination. It requires bravery to confront a foe that has beaten you once, and it requires a certain kind of faith-- perhaps even moxie-- to decide to take back that ground.
I was searching for models who portray bravery, and it was an interesting exercise to think through the people I know who I would categorize as brave. It was additionally difficult among those who came to mind to find someone who had a brave-looking face. I finally decided up on painting my grandpa.
There is a lot to say about my grandpa, more than can be said here, but suffice it to say that he was a fabulous model.
The Spirit of Reclamation will be on display at the Denver Seminary Bridge Gallery from August 24- December 8, 2015.