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Unity in Numbers

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 I created this painting in 2005 when I was 21 years-old.  It is the most time and effort I have put into a single piece of artwork in my entire life.  I was in art school at the time studying painting ( at the University of Georgia), and for a semester I dedicated my self to this painting and just a few others. I would go to the studio and mix a single color of paint and then spend the whole session painting patterns with that one color.  I frequently began after dinner and then worked through the night.  Everyone in the art school began to recognize this huge (80" x 36") painting and myself standing in front of it on two easels working on it. 

I didn't even finish it at the end of the semester, I thought I might work on it for the rest of my life.  But I was lucky enough to be taking all art studio courses and finished my semester without having to stay for the period of finals.  My beautiful girlfriend of 5 months (now my wife of 10 years!) was in a similar scenario without finals and so we decided to make a short trip to the beach in Florida to celebrate the end of the school year.  When we returned I was so devoted to my work, we actually went straight to the art school studios before even heading home.

As I walked into the building I was so excited to revisit these works after stepping away from them for a week after forging such a woven relationship to them over the past few months.  As I walked into the studio I noticed things looked different, with so many students sharing the space there was always work everywhere and the storage racks were always full of work, some had been there for years; but this was different, the studio was.. clean?!  I immediately recognized the potential in this scenario and ran full speed to the rack that I kept my work, even though there was no work anywhere else I look as if looking desperately for a person that has been pulled under a wave and wondering when their head will come up.   My paintings were not going to surface though, and my vision started to become blurry...  (more below) 

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I stood there muttering "where are they.. where are they.. where are they.." as my future wife searched as well, both of us now knowing they were not here.  Soon another person approached the studio, the entire building had been empty as far as I had known.  It was one of my professors in the drawing department and it did not take him long to realize what was happening given his hesitation and the fact he knew who I was and the work I had been making.  He nervously (while attempting some form of authoritarian confidence) pointed me to a sign that had been posted a few days earlier saying that they were cleaning out the studio and a couple days before the current date they would be discarding any work and supplies not claimed by students.  I, of course, had never seen this sign, I had been out of town by the time it was posted, and certainly would have been the first to claim my work. 

As anger washed over me I could not believe the man standing in front of me, and artist himself, would do this to another artist knowing what it would feel like.   After that first wave of anger though, I recognized that there was a hard reality at the bottom of this raging stream, and that was that my work had been thrown out, but it might still exist somewhere.  I began to interrogate the individual in front of me, I wanted to know every detail; when the work was discarded, how it was discarded, who actually discarded it, and when it was seen last.  Sadly, the man in front of me was like a guilty politician doing everything in his power to avoid giving direct answers, terror in his eyes at the emotion and desperation in the young man before him.  What I did find out was that he with the assistance of a couple of graduate students had thrown the paintings on the lawn in front of the building by the street, and many of the works had been picked up by passer-byes. 

This information was collected in what is now a haze of memory so thickly coated in anger, disgust, and an authentic sense of betrayal that at some point I was so emotionally overwhelm that it all turns to black, and the last thing I recall is having backed this man through the entire art school I was standing in front of his office door as he slammed it shut in my face, I punched it with my fist and yelled a stream of obscenities, and then broke down crying.  I remember the look of shock and empathy in my girlfriend's eyes and now looking back see how this moment of vulnerability and the following compassion part of our Love's Path was laid.  She did what she could to come down and we headed back to my apartment going over the facts like trying to recall a blurry dream or what truly was a dense nightmare... (more below)

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When we got back to my apartment the anger began to fully recede and in its place a rotund and truly voluminous feeling of grief entered and overflowed from its place.  I had never put so much of myself into something and to have it just cast out like that made me feel hurt and sadness in a particular way I had not felt before.  I remember laying on my bed and weeping full of heaving sobs repeating the words "I just want my paintings back..."  My girlfriend of just a few months was there in my little apartment room and here her big tough boyfriend, tattoos and all the wildness in the world was weeping like a small child.  But she stayed there with me, and never judged but instead truly understood and supported me.  She knew what I was going through was authentic, and looking back was a necessary part of our lives together.  There will be grief in life, for a whole spectrum of losses and changes; and a major part of lifelong partnership is navigating them -together-.   

When the emotions began to settle, a clarity began to set in that there was still hope to get the work back, and we devised a plan.  First we typed up "Missing Paintings" signs and we went downtown and around the art school and posted them everywhere.  The next day we planned to take an ad out in the paper and offer a reward for anyone that had information on where we might find the work.  Seriously if "Missing" ads were still on milk cartons we probably would have considered the option.   But, we didn't even have to post the ad, because the next day.. we got a phone call!   

This call still remains a well of hope for me and a reminder that this path is mutual and collective and supported by the Universe.  It was from a woman that was a fellow art student, she had just graduated from the Scientific Illustration department in fact.  She had seen me working for hours on my paintings in the studio, and a few days prior was riding in her friends car and witnessed an odd scene outside the Art School.  There she saw two men had picked up this giant painting of mine and were walking away together with it under their arms, and she knew that clearly neither of them was me.  She stopped and was clever enough to tell them it was hers and that they couldn't take it, then went and found two more of my works in the pile of discarded paintings.  The other works were slightly smaller so they loaded them in the vehicle, and since they were driving a Honda Civic, the put "Unity in Numbers" on the roof and these two people drove all the way across town with their arms out the window holding it to the roof!  This woman and her friends were angels to me!  They brought the work back to her apartment, but she had actually moved out of town and had left the work there with her neighbor.  I begged her to let me pay her for saving these pieces and told her how much they and she meant to me, but she understood what they truly meant and refused anything other than my gratitude. (more below)

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So I drove to the apartment where the work was, nervous the whole time that the work might be gone again. I got there and was so relieved to see the pieces, the neighbor that had been storing them actual told me that a person had offered him $1000 for "Unity in Numbers" (as it was later called) and I was so grateful he instead saved the work to return to me.  Later, when I asked if I could offer anything to tell him "thank you" and he asked me if I could get him some cocaine (!?) I felt that it truly must be an act of the Divine that these works were being returned to me!  I politely declined the opportunity, and thought a heartfelt "thank you" would suffice for this scenario.

I took the work back to my apartment, and even though a few pieces were lost in the debacle, I was so full of joy and thankfulness.  I slept with this huge piece in my tiny bedroom for months, and finally when I was ready began to put the finishing touches on it.  When it was complete it was so full of energy and story I was ready to pass it along.  It timed well with my girlfriend and I beginning a move in another chapter of our lives.  A friend purchased it and it helped fund our move to Florida for me to begin a tattoo apprenticeship.  Not long ago he passed it on to another dear friend, and just last week that friend got in touch and told me he is in financial need and wondered if I would be okay with him selling the work.  I was grateful for the message and the opportunity to support a friend and go visit an old friend, in this painting.  So here we are, the spirals continue on forever.  I am grateful to have these pictures and to share these words. 

If you have somehow made it this far, and if you would like to know more about potentially purchasing this work, please email me at LoveHawkStudio@gmail.com.  And in this time of perceived separation, may we remember that there is Unity in Numbers.  <3

David Hale