12 March 2014

God's Portrait by Charles Mingus (1922-1979)

With the first Sunday of Lent coming in the morning, I had settled in at home to a day of painting for an installation that was currently being juried across the country.  Painting (with acrylics) beckons me to stillness which comes with watching each stroke and layer take shape; and  equally so, chaos of spreading out paints and brushes and drop cloths and jars of water.  There is no other way to paint. Or so I thought, in that moment.

Just as the sun was setting on the eve of setting the clocks forward an hour (aka losing an hour's sleep or being late for church), one of my village sons, a Hindu student at MIT, invited me to come hear his jazz band play. Without hesitation, I knew I was to say "yes." I began staging my paintings to dry overnight and cleaning my brushes to not follow suit.  I dressed in village mother leather, leggings, and boots (yes, I am a fly village mother) and made it to the venue with three minutes to spare.  On the way there, I received an email that my ticket would be waiting for me.  What an honor, especially being that I would have paid to attend, regardless.

To know me is to know that I really appreciates LIVE music.  This was to be no exception. Even with a few tech problems and varying levels of musician competency, I imagined each piece in the dance -- each movement the ensemble, each solo a prima donna. I grinned broadly in the dim lighting as village son had a trumpet solo in "All That" (2000 by Kenny Werner, b.1951)!  I enthusiastically snapped at the physicality of the bassist who literally danced the entire set with his stringed partner.  I wished I could hear Kirk Whalem'nem play De-Evolution of Blues (2005 by Mark Harvey, b.1946).  And then, that moment...

That moment when God appears to have entered my row, pardoning stepping over me to take a seat, as the conductor announced that the ensemble would perform for the first time, this arrangement of Charles Baron Mingus' "God's Portrait" (1963) rearranged as "Portrait" (2014) by Peter Godart (MIT'15).  Through the mystery of music I could see God in the sturdy bottom of the bass (Mingus' primary instrument), Jesus in the brass horns crisp-noted brilliance, and Spirit in the aspirant notes of the saxophones. I deeply associate music with dance and now my eyes are opened to see music in the art of painting!

I can not wait to set up to paint again. Until then, I will be listening for the music to play for each stroke, melodies of each hue, and harmony of a finished portrait.  A portrait of divine inspiration.  Inspiration played as improvisation. Although every stroke and chord would be deliberate, all of the elements of improvisation would be present.  Like jazz.  Like Mingus' portrait of God.

If you have never had a moment when divine visitation bridges your handwork to your heart work, I pray you do some time during Lent.


  1. Now, YES - yes to ALL of that! Love, T

  2. love it! 1 question - did you do the painting in the article? Its brilliant