Michael Divine

Only Love Can (Reign Over Me)

I began this painting in September 2017. The blues and clear focus felt like a good next step following The Apotheosis of Hope. But then the fires hit all around us (we live a couple hours north of San Francisco) and our air was awash in smoke, the light was ever orange-gold, and everything was chaotic and burning. Suddenly cool blue didn’t seem so important even if it felt trite to say so.

At the time, too, we’d taken in some cats that our [terrible] neighbors abandoned when they moved. One of those cats, Mu, who Violet had rather fallen in love with, was seized by our neighbor’s dog and killed. It was brutal. This would be, in and of itself, rather tragic, but she had already been suffering from depression. There had been a lot of loss in her life recently and it’d been building, draining, challenging. The death of this sweet new kitty sort of rocked the boat in a serious way she tumbled even deeper.

So the painting was put aside. I kept looking at it: this messy and incomplete vision of beauty that seemed so distant and burdensome. This sense of wonder that was surrounded by despair.

Everything hurt all the time.

Yet, I kept seeing – or trying to see – this painting as her in one of her highest forms. She is this powerful woman, this amazing force in my world. She has a wonderful way of seeing everything all at once like no one else can. And she can take it all in and find relationships, memorize moments, and she manages it pretty well, for the most part. So we’d have our arguments and it’d be this pool of sad and I’d come back to this painting that didn’t even seem to be about anything anymore. It was supposed to be a vision of clarity yet everything felt so unclear. So raw and vulnerable. Nothing made sense.

For me, it felt overwhelming – all these responsibilities (mundane things like mortgage and bills but also the person who is trying to keep things moving forwards. The one who is UP. The one who can manage) and desires (personal goals and dreams and needing inspiration but also in business or love or spirit) and emotions (and all the rest) (not to mention the general state of the world). All the while, Violet struggled through this ever deepening pit of despair while I was left simply trying to stay afloat.

Through all that, I wanted to build this beautiful vision for her so that when she looked at it she saw some aspect of herself. She’d modeled for my original photos after all. I wanted it to inspire her the way she inspires me.

You see, the paintings I make create a backdrop to our lives – these ordinary yet extraordinary lives that we lead. They reflect it all back and become points of departure, growth, and intimacy. It was challenging sometimes to go back to this painting when there’d be strife or despair and I’d be left feeling like I’m wringing light from painted diamonds.

And so that became this painting: it is simply me lifting her, you – all of us – up as best I can to the highest vision where we’re left without form in a space of light reflecting light.

Looking for a title, I’d been calling it “Rain” for a long time – “That Rain Painting.” Violet had used the word “Reign” at one point and I recalled ‘Love Reign Over Me’ – a song from The Who – and though I’m not much of a fan of The Who, I found this bit of writing from Pete Townshend regarding the song to be relevant:

[Love, Reign O’er Me] refers to Meher Baba’s one-time comment that rain was a blessing from God; that thunder was God’s Voice. It’s another plea to drown, only this time in the rain. Jimmy goes through a suicide crisis. He surrenders to the inevitable, and you know, you know, when it’s over and he goes back to town he’ll be going through the same s–t, being in the same terrible family situation and so on, but he’s moved up a level. He’s weak still, but there’s a strength in that weakness. He’s in danger of maturing.

Pete Townshend – from the liner notes of “Quadrophenia”

Going back to October, November, I was having conversations with Violet about the depths of her depression. Depression is so very real and those conversations were heart breaking conversations. Conversations that left, in the back of my mind, a worry of leaving her alone for too long. It is frightening. It was all the work I could do to stay “up”. Focused. Committed. Moving forwards. Staying on top of the bits and pieces of our business, our home, our lives and also maintaining some creative flow and focus.

And so I suppose there was a moment – perhaps for each of us – between one maelstrom and the other – it’s like the eye of the storm – the pause of the pendulum – when everything is still and perfect – everything is floating, falling, cascading – frozen – you stop going in one direction and decide to go in another – it’s a sleet of diamond daggers and you’re on fire and your head is exploding but in that moment everything is perfectly balanced, in sync, and in a moment’s time the light passes through it and you hear that note, that song, that reminder and in that moment we catch our breath, we lift our heads, we open our eyes again and say I AM.

In those crystalline moments of realization, when we see everything so clearly. When it’s all just light and shadow, contrasts weaving in and out of each other, ebbing and flowing together. It’s just life. We can keep our heads hung low but, really, I think, it’s love that makes us look up, that causes us to open our eyes. To see. I think that only love can do that and it is some spark within us – this unquenchable fire – that is ignited again.

Only Love Can (Reign Over Me)
Only Love Can (Reign Over Me) – Michael Divine

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