Epiphany Under the Wishing Tree • by Christine Rose Elle
You know what’s weird? Most of my life, I have been kind of mad at art. I mean, I never
considered it something that saved me. I always thought the drive to create was a curse.
I’ve wished that I could just ignore it and be an accountant. But I changed my mind
irrevocably during a pilgrimage to Peggy Guggenheim’s grave.
Peggy is in sweet repose in the garden of her Venetian palazzo cuddled up with her ten dogs. The whole kit and caboodle is situated right next to Yoko Ono’s Wishing Tree. The Tree is a more recent addition to her gravesite. Visitors to Peggy’s museum palazzo write a wish on a scrap of paper and then tie it to one of the branches. The wishes flutter in the breeze like leaves waiting for the wind to catch one and carry it on.
I sat under this tree and thought, “If Peggy were still alive, she and Yoko would have been boon companions.” At least I liked to think so.
I am a big solo traveler. I love to wander, get lost, and become glassy and dreamy with the wonder of it all. Especially in Italy where I lived for over a year, and more especially in Venice. Where Peggy resides.
On this blustery day in late January, the water of the lagoon is threatening to creep in. The streets are empty. The canals and calles are at their windiest and only the gondolieri are lurking about like crows squawking for riders.
I have been to Venice enough now to know my way around by memory. I don’t actually know the names of any of the streets or plazas—I only know “Go right at the mask shop with the Punchinello faces, then you’ll see the bridge for St Marks.” The route to Peggy’s palazzo is in my bones.
Wondering with Peggy & Yoko
Sometimes on the way from my tiny apartment, I pretend that I am a distant relative. I muse I am a long, lost niece who inherited Great Aunt Peggy’s passion for patronage, surrealism, and pets. Somehow her peccadilloes skipped several generations and settled on me to carry them on.
When I arrive at the museum, I rush to view my personal favorites from Peggy’s extensive collection, the Joseph Cornell shadow boxes, and the Max Ernst fantasy painting “The Robing of the Bride.” I like the bride because she is as naked as a jaybird except for a giant orange aviary eagle robe. But my most favorite paintings are by Peggy’s daughter Pegeen. Her paintings are intimate wee little things with a surprisingly bold palette. One self-portrait shows her adrift in a gondola among the choppy canal waters wanting desperately to be bright and simple. At first, the painting captivates with childlike charm, but upon closer look, you can see sadness so deep the colors glow with it. Her figure bobs, desperately lost among the turbulence grasping for canal markers that are nothing but liquid reflections. Pegeen did in fact succumb to her darkness at only 41 years old in an overdose many assume was suicide.
So, I wonder to myself under the Wishing Tree, is this creativity a curse? Why is creativity like a siren song that has always beckoned to me? Sometimes I show up to the page and pretend that I can deny it and be someone else today. That thought is as much a folly as pretending to be Peggy’s lost relation.
I sigh and turn my complimentary scrap of wish paper between my gloved fingers. I can’t get past the suffering that Peggy and Yoko must have felt in their lifetimes. The gutting loss from the death of a child, and the brutal senseless murder of a visionary husband.
Creativity Chooses Us
It occurs to me that despite their suffering, art is the glue that bound them through their lives and was their foundation. Art was the only solid thing among emotions too volatile, intense, and unrelenting to describe. My silly wishes of wanting to write and publish books seem dainty in comparison.
It also occurs to me that creativity and art are communications that transcend words and go directly to the depths of the soul. They allow you to express the unspeakable. Art becomes the voice. If you are vulnerable and honest with creativity, it can be a blend of your endless screeches of despair and the softened whispering pleas. And it can also be the very wings of bliss.
It is my belief that creativity chooses you. It chose me.
I wipe tears away with the back of my hand, the wool of my gloves softening my own dark thoughts.
And then it hits me. Creativity is not the curse I always thought it was, but a common language between artists that I can access and speak. If I can hear what people from other times and places are saying, then the curse is really a gift of the ability to transcend time and space. I can hear the voices of others speak their emotional landscapes though colors, brush strokes, pen marks, etchings, shapes, and textures. If I can hear them, then surely someone can hear me.
So I pick up a tiny yellow pencil and make the only wish I can that connects me to the voices that came before me, and the wishes that will come after: “Dear Peggy and Yoko, please. Please let me live up to my potential to hear and be heard. Love, Christine.”
To learn more about Christine Rose Elle, visit christineroseelle.com.