My husband had cancer for five years. At the beginning, between his treatments, he was quite healthy for chunks of time, which allowed him to continue working. But fortune rarely smiles continuously, and eventually, the periods of wellness dwindled. As he became more ill, he couldn’t sustain the energy required to produce his big, bold abstract paintings. Eventually he had to stop working, and very quietly, almost secretively, transformed half of what we jokingly called “the ballroom” (a Victorian parlor) into his studio. I would return from work to find that he had sequestered himself for hours behind the French doors, doing studies of objects with charcoal and pencil. On good days, he would sometimes do our grocery shopping, and fruit became his favorite subject. During times when his energy was low, he’d ransack the kitchen, and occasionally I’d have to swoop in to retrieve a tomato or an apple, overripe and sagging from having sat too long. “Did you have a special recipe in mind for this, love?” I’d ask, and we’d laugh. Ultimately the fruit studies yielded tiny, exquisite canvases of cherries, pears and apples.
These days, a few years after his passing, my walls are filled with his large abstracts, which are vivid, gestural and full of life. His palette was wide-ranging and strongly colored, with high contrast. For me, they hold his energy and passion for life and beauty. He did not live in pastels. My favorites of the fruit paintings are lined up on top of my barrister’s bookshelf, with pride of place. Their austerity and concentration of color against pristine backgrounds lend them a visual punch, despite their small size.
Reflecting back on his life as an artist, I’m both intrigued and consoled that his life’s work of energetic abstraction was distilled to calm and eloquent simplicity.
Christine Sullivan is presently rooted in Portland. Inspired by Emerson’s words, “Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us or we find it not,” her mission is to help bring joy and beauty to the world. Christine’s collages incorporate her photography with images of animals and the divine feminine. Since Ward Wilson’s untimely death of cancer in 2013, she has devoted herself to expanding his legacy.
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