Artist: Mary Griffin
Host: Sarah Skaggs

Gone!, Charcoal, acrylic, and oil on stretched canvas


In the darkest days of winter and in the midst of the endlessness of this pandemic, I decided to move into a new apartment. A bittersweet change, but after some time of happy co-habitation with friends I wanted a solo space again. The first task was to purchase and set up a giant king size bed, a special moment as I have been working toward having the luxury of means and space for it since arriving in Chicago nearly 7 years ago. After one restless night in a room so complete in its sparseness, that every stray sound and light seemed to shout, I drove to the South Loop and Mary Griffin met me in the street to load Gone! into my Jeep. In such a hurry not to block traffic, I hardly looked at the painting. Once home, the work safely on the wall, I began to slowly take it in. It was the beginning of making a new home, quieting the outside world. Not sure how I felt about it at first, I have grown to love being in such intimate proximity to it. Most nights it is among the last things that I look at before I go to bed, and in the morning after my alarm goes off, I find myself lost in sleepy thoughts lingering with the work before propelling myself into my day. Like my life, what seems to me to be at the forefront of the work is in constant flux. Some days I notice its color, others the gestural movement, or the quality of the material on the canvas; other times I see depth, others flatness. Hanging out with this painting has reminded me of what I love about abstract paintings and art in general. What I love in particular is that this piece has managed to hold on to some remnant of artistic process, it seems to broadcast how it was made without seeming unfinished.

My experience of the ‘anthropause’ forced a painful but ultimately profound confrontation with my own mortality and the tenuous web that holds my life together. Not a unique experience, but personally revelatory, nonetheless. I remembered that I love artists and learning about how things are made. I want to enjoy the process of my life, to feel a fundamental connection to artistic practice by how I live as well as what I do for work. Mary’s Gone! Has become the symbol of this reminder. I looked at it and the icy blue seemed to mirror those early ice- and snow-covered days when I was relearning how to truly care for myself and feel at home while alone in a space. Now with the change in light of the spring the pink and marigold step forward, they tell me to get outside and remember to enjoy the world beyond this little haven I’ve built for myself. I look at Gone!and somehow the work feels as though it is self-evident, presenting itself authentically from the moment you first encounter it; and yet newness is inherent, revealing some detail I haven’t noticed before. It models the presence I aspire to bring to each moment, teaching me each day how to do that.

The context of how the piece came into my home inspires me as well. Sophie’s hard work to bring everyone together and the kind intention to keep aesthetic experience alive in a moment where scarcity and security threatened to stamp them out. Mary and Sophie working so hard in graduate school at SAIC, a time that pushes and pulls on your mind and soul, making space for new versions of yourself, but is also at times quite painful. I think happily that those days are long gone for me, but also grateful for what they bring to me now. The blue sea swallows all the regret and past mistakes, and I look forward toward the light of today.

One my anthems of the pandemic (a positive emotional trigger to offer relief when overwhelm strikes) is Revelationsby Yoko Ono and Cat Power off of Ono’s 2007 album “Yes, I’m a Witch.”

Yoko Ono sings:
You are a sea of goodness/ you are a sea of love/
Bless you for what you are/

In the smallness of my life, I have slowly and carefully encountered one painting. I witness it, constant and yet changing, as it witnesses my transformation, big shifts while rediscovering a constant core of love. Connected through artist and curator to deep seas of goodness and love, grateful for what we are.

—Sarah Skaggs