A young botanist who works as a field scientist and natural resources educator recently was gifted a print of Mother of Molecules and wrote me an inquisitive email: "Some people look at [the painting] and think it is full of animosity for humanity. I am not sure about this. I am curious what your feeling was about it. This is a really interesting painting and I would love to know some of the back story."
I felt honored that the young woman took the time to write to me, but I was surprised by the phrase "animosity for humanity." This is what I wrote to her: "When I put the people inside the painting, it felt right that they be crying: there is a lot of suffering in life, more for humans than other animals, because, in addition to diseases of the body and aging, humans carry so much psychological suffering: guilt, shame, resentment, greed, hatred (including self-hatred), and delusion. The Green Woman, a variation on the Celtic Green Man, is cradling, protecting her child. Similarly the monkey in the upper right corner is a mother with her baby. I feel that both mother-child pairs are very tender. The two racoons are either siblings or mates. The pregnant woman at the top is the Mother of Molecules; her ringlets are coiled protein molecules, one of the primary chemicals of our cells. Light emanates from behind the green pods and floods the rest of the painting."
Here is her eloquent reply:
"For me, the first thing that struck me was how beautiful the colors and patterns were. I am a botanist by formal training. On closer inspection the complexity became apparent. In brief, the humans seem uniquely dark and anguished in expression, relative to the other creatures. I saw the red tears of blood of the humans, and some carrying of this via color and form in the umbilical-chord like tendrils connecting the humans' ring to the other creatures' rings. Because of the name, I thought of the recycling of compounds and energy in the creation of life.
"Something that often strikes me at moments of tragedy in my own life, or the lives of friends is how at every moment, everything is happening across the spectrum of existence, joy, pain, death, birth, love, hate, kindness, cruelty, excitement, boredom, meaning, despair, hope.. all concurrent. It helps to put things into perspective when one is in a hard time.
"Even now in this moment in Ashland, with the violent killing of David Grubbs, at the instant that was happening, I think how the Oregon Grape along the bike path was simply growing and living its leafy life, in the chill air, in that same space; and further along, lovers may have been walking the path, bathed in the warmth and comfort of their feeling; I myself was doing some mundane activity I wouldn't even be able to remember, all at that same moment....
"You know...the Tibetan sand painting idea. Existence includes everything. It all cycles around, transitioning and impermanent, yet connected by being."
The young botanist saw a great deal in Mother of Molecules because she had already understood a great deal about life. It is the hope of all artist that their creations speak deeply to others. I hope Mother of Molecules will be a visual reminder to others of the great wisdom expressed so clearly by the young botanist.