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Art Alchemy…the birth after death

April 15, 2016

July 3, 2015…it was a breezy, sunny late afternoon, and I was painting a rose, (later to be titled “Optimism”) on the deck in Santa Cruz. Earlier I launched my business page on Facebook, and it was also my one year anniversary of being back in California. Little did I know this date would be remembered for something entirely different. The day was quiet, warm. I noticed a missed call from my mentor, and with a text, “call me back, it’s an emergency.” Confused, I returned her call, walking down the steps into the courtyard…a peach colored rose staring at me. “I can’t even talk…” she replies when I asked her what was going on. She said, “Jhonny died.” “What?” was my immediate reply, not comprehending anything. “Who, what are you talking about?” My heart racing now… “Erin…Kaci’s Jhonny…Jhonny died.” My heart dropped. Time stopped. Disbelief more than anything in that moment, I began turning in circles and pacing, hand on my head facing down, thinking this isn’t real. I had a fast cry with my parents after telling them the news, and a few hours later I walked into Kaci’s house in Sacramento to see my dear friend sitting cross legged on the couch, looking at me in disbelief too. I hugged her and all I could say was, “I’m so sorry…it will be ok.”

Jhonathan Florez, a world record BASE wingsuit jumper from Colombia, fell to his death in Switzerland during a routine training for an upcoming competition. It’s believed his accident was as simple as a slip. Just like that. Yes the sport is dangerous, but Jhonny was known for safety and doing anything and everything possible for jumps that held the utmost integrity. I never thought this would happen to him. I really didn’t. But it did. And here we were, sitting in Kaci’s living room with her parents figuring out what to do next. Within 48 hours, Kaci and her father were on a plane. “Go get your husband,” I told her just trying to give her any strength possible as she got in the car to the airport. My heart numb, mind racing, I watched the car drive away still in complete disbelief.

My best friend’s husband died. What the hell do I do?

Sep 5, 2015…two months later after things started to slow down, I went to Kaci’s house with paint. A lot of it. I staple gunned two large blank canvases onto her fence in the backyard…the sun beaming, the sky open, her Italian Greyhound dogs prancing in the sunshine. I was setting up a painting experience to help let loose a bit. My friend was grieving. Her heart hurt…immensely. Perhaps art could give her some comfort, I hoped…and Jhonny always encouraged us to paint together. Bottles of acrylic paint were scattered on the grass, along with squeegees, thin plastic boards to smear paint, brushes, and of course spray bottles of ocean water. Kaci turned on some music of her choice, and we got started. “Just throw on the first layer…any color that calls to you,” I explained, watching her paint slowly, carefully, a bit unsure. “Now more paint, another color, and more layers,” I encouraged. Using everyday materials, she lathered the canvas, started moving her body a bit more, and getting in the rhythm. “Yes! Look at that!” I reacted when she was breaking out a little more. “I don’t know what to do next,” she stated. I responded with “what do you feel?” and she grabbed red paint, confidently. “Jhonny’s favorite color.” I told her to go for it…and in perfect timing, a Latin song came on and we began to dance, and even laugh. “This is really helping,” Kaci said. “You have something here.” And it was this afternoon that “Art Alchemy” was born.

Art Alchemy is the therapeutic idea of embracing your spirit, breaking through, and revolutionizing your heart. This idea came from the abstract painting session I designed for my dear friend, who recently lost her beloved husband. She expressed that through the action of painting and freedom of expression with color, it gave her the space to release.

Alchemy is described as “a seemingly magical process of transformation, creation, or combination.” Through art, color, movement, sound and essence, the spirit has an opportunity to express, to remember, to heal, to have fun and to carry forward.

Painting can be both freeing and exhilarating. Art Alchemy is designed to paint standing, to move the body, using non-traditional materials to create your abstract masterpiece layer by layer. It’s a process that shows you what is. And you may be surprised what you learn about yourself. Painting connects us with what’s behind the veil…it’s just a matter of letting go and trusting the process. And I’ve come to learn that the veil is thin between life and death. Watching my friend mourn her husband’s sudden passing has proven several times over that we are guided, loved, and watched over through the other side…and that there is purpose to everything. It’s that choice to take a step deeper, to believe. The essence of abstract painting through Art Alchemy is sort of an invitation to enter that divine space again.

Recently having lunch with Kaci outside, talking about the progression of Art Alchemy, a tiny white feather flew right in front of our face…and we both laughed, and were a little stunned too. “That’s Jhonny saying hi and yes, keep going,” Kaci said. Jhonny being known as the “Bird Man” who loved to fly, it was the sign that gave me a smile. It was no mistake that soon after his death I painted over 30 roses that happened to be their last name, Florez (flowers)…and the day he passed was the day I painted “Optimism”…he was all about being positive and going after your passion. That word goes for Kaci too, who has been nothing but a warrior goddess and has helped many people by sharing her journey as a young widow.

And for me, art was a way of holding space for my friend. What can we do in these situations? How do you help someone you love who is hurting so much? Just being there…that’s number one…even if you don’t know what to do. Art is a tool, a gift, to express the depth that resides in our hearts that just wants to come out! Art Alchemy…encouraging you to keep going and see what happens. I’ll see you in class.

Much love,

Erin xo

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