Friday, January 3, 2014


I heard this story last night that I thought worth repeating.  It concerns my friend and neighbor in Laguna Beach, the artist Paul Darrow.  Now in his nineties and still sprightly, despite recent health problems, Paul has been a prominent figure in the Southern California art community for more decades than even he can remember, as both a prolific artist himself and an influential teacher.  His associations with other prominent artists of the fifties and beyond, and with those many students who owe him their gratitude, are countless.

A good number of Paul's always elegant collages along with a selection of larger paintings from an earlier period are currently on view at BC Space in Laguna--an exhibition which is well worth a visit.  It was right after seeing this show last evening that I went on to see another exhibition in a gallery on the "Art Walk" route and ran into Donna Morin atDM studio, an artist who had worked with Paul several decades ago.  It was her story that I found to be a moving and memorable reminder of the power we all have, with a little kindness and compassion, to affect other people's lives.

Here's what Donna told me: she came to Paul, as a student, at a particularly difficult and painful moment in her life.  She had been going through a harrowing divorce, with the added emotional complication of children and, I can well imagine, the familiar, wrenching hassles over property and money.  She found in Paul a kind and patient listener, whose compassion allowed her to release her inner turmoil in a flood of emotion; and she recalls ending her jeremiad by saying--and here I paraphrase her words: "I just don't know who I am or where I am any more.  I'm back to square one."  To which Paul responded, with the intuitive wisdom of a true artist: "That's the best place to be.  You have to start painting the square."

Donna started painting the square, in red, in blue, in yellow... She has been painting the square ever since. Decades later, she is still painting variations on the square, as is amply demonstrated in the work she is showing: large squares and small, their colorful interior motifs all somehow defining the dimensions and the proportions of the squares that contain them.  And she still recalls the advice she received from a teacher, years ago, who took the time to listen to her woes and respond to them with compassion and wisdom.

The great gift of a great teacher is to be able to touch others' lives.  Sometimes it takes no more than a casual word of advice or an insight to leave a lasting mark that changes the whole course of a life.  It moves me greatly that the Buddha in Paul found exactly the right words to say on that occasion long ago; and that his student found inspiration in his words.

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