Color as Refuge
The first I knew that Mickey’s school was holding a student art auction was from an email from Cindy, the school principal.
When the state senator arrived, Cindy wrote, they called all the classrooms down to the lobby to cut the ceremonial ribbon. “I asked for volunteers to help and Mickey walked right up. He has a picture in our show too.” She attached a photo of the painting, titled "My Favorite Meal,” as well as an interview with the artist they’d posted beside the painting.
Q: What is your inspiration?
M: I want lunch.
Q: What tools did you use? Why?
M: Paint and paintbrush. So I can paint better.
Q: What materials did you use?
Q: What do you like best about your piece?
M: It’s perfect. It’s wonderful. I like the strawberry milkshake best.
Q: What is it?
M: McDonald's fast food.
Q: What is your favorite part of the piece?
M: All of it.
Q: What were you trying to say in the work?
M: I'd like to order these.
This was too delightful not to share. I sent out an email blast, and posted it to Facebook. The responses were immediate.
“Love you, love Mickey, love this,” my friend Beth wrote.
“The interview is SO Mickey!” my college roommate Pat said.
“Ok, I liked the art, I even guessed what it was before reading the interview,” my sister-in-law Susan said. “BUT it is the best interview ever! It reads like Woody Allen.”
“Well I hope he got lunch,” my brother Marty said. “Artists get very temperamental when they are hungry.”
My teacher Joelle, a writer and painter herself, had a different take. “I love Mickey's sensibility. I love his painting! … Mickey in his being literally tastes what he paints. An artist prays for this kind of immediacy. What we feel may be deadpan literal to him may well be sensual. ‘What materials did you use’! And his answer is ‘Color.’ I know exactly what he means. I called my last art show ‘Color as Refuge.’”
Hmm. I hadn’t even thought of it that way. I looked through a stack of Mickey’s paintings over the years. Not masterful, but so self-assured. I stopped to study a sea of sapphire blue swirling beneath magenta mountains. Such bold brush strokes. Such saturated color. Joelle was right; I could feel Mickey’s sheer exuberance.
I thought about all his fine motor challenges. His mixed reactivity to sensory input—how as a baby he couldn’t tolerate the feel of sand at the beach, or grass beneath his bare feet. Couldn’t bear to touch clay or glue. How he’d struggled to write, his pencil pressure so weak that for a long time we couldn’t even make out the marks on the page. All those years of occupational therapy.
Color as refuge.
The dictionary defines refuge as “a condition of being safe or sheltered from pursuit, danger, or trouble.” Mickey is exiting school soon; he’s anxious about what comes next. Perhaps color, as well as painting pictures of his favorite meal, provides a measure of comfort.
The current bid on the painting was $10. “We should bid,” I told my husband Marc. “It’s a donation to the school.”
“My Mick is worth $100,” Marc said.
“No,” I told him. “He’s priceless.”