Listening to accounts of the horrific events that unfolded at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, I was not able to get certain images out of my mind: especially one young man’s description of his ordeal. He was hiding in a bathroom stall with 17 [seventeen!!] other people, all wounded, all slowly bleeding to death as they waited over two and a half hours for help [two and a half hours!]. The shooter came around several times and shot into the stall, but remarkably, never entered it.
The young man said he couldn’t get the smell of the blood out of his mind. He shot video with his phone from inside the stall and sent it to friends so that they would know that the people around him were all still alive and give clues to any potential rescuers. Why did they have to wait almost THREE HOURS for help? Only five made it out alive. Heart-rending. Horrible. Horrible.
The only way I could work through my feelings was to focus on why everyone was there to begin with. They had no idea what was to come. They did not know many of those around them would not see the next day. They were there originally for something quite different. They were there to celebrate who they were and each other. To affirm who they are and take pride in that.
This is what we all must do. We must remember to celebrate ourselves and who we are, to affirm that in the face of those who would like to shut us down. For the survivors, yes, there will be dark days and days memory will ambush, sights and smells will haunt. But if we give into the darkness, then the terrorists win. Evil wins by shutting down our lives. We must not accept that. We must stand up and speak up and re-affirm our rights and existence.
We must refuse to shut down! We must remind ourselves of what we celebrate. We celebrate each other, who we are, our humanity, we give thanks for each other, and affirm our own identities, our differences that make us the unique human beings we are. We affirm our identities and in this way overcome the darkness. We affirm life, our own and each other’s lives.
Even the name “Pulse” is a word that has to do with blood, but blood as life-giving force, not death, the pulse of our hearts, the pulse of life, the pulse of our lives. This is what we must remind ourselves of, what we must remember. We need to re-claim this. I was compelled to paint a painting to reclaim this for myself and others, to remind us that we celebrate the pulse of life. It is our life force that overcomes fear.
For me to work through something, I paint. I came to the thoughts above in my studio as I prepared a painting. First, I stretched a painting onto my wall.
I began the painting with drawings of bullets and the violence, working impulsively with charcoal until the canvas was almost black.
Then, in a fury, I painted it all out with white/light [sorry no pics of these parts of the process, I was too possessed to remember to get pics …].
Then I covered the entire surface with blood red paint, a color I found by matching a swatch of my own blood on paper, I was painting mostly with my hands, like the finger-painting we did in elementary school. But blood starts drying as brown. I did not want dried blood, but blood that was still alive, I wanted to affirm the life-giving force of blood, of life. So I brightened the red to make it more life-giving-like.
Then I added the top layers, the affirmation of life and energy, reminding myself of the original meaning of pulse, the feelings I wanted to affirm. The result is my painting, Pulse.
- -Erik ReeL, Ventura, 2016