By Else Wolf
Upstairs in Celandine, our medical therapeutic building, is a room which many don’t know about. It is the Robert Musil Library and hosts many rare books from Carlo Pietzner’s collection. It is also where children have art therapy. It is usually set up for painting, sometimes for drawing, or clay modeling. Two chairs with aprons draped across their backs sit in front of a covered table with a set of premixed water color paints wait next to the white sheet of stretched paper. The large windows face the green foliage, no traffic or people distract the view. Apart from a few noises from downstairs, it is a quiet space.
Jordan has been painting here for the last two years. He comes twice a week for just over half an hour. He puts down his large helmet and colorful bag with emergency supplies. He dons a red apron and is ready. We talk for a while about what is on his mind, so we can leave that world behind. He picks up the brush and dips into vermillion red.
Jordan’s first pictures had a chaotic energy to them and in the course of the session they became ever darker. But the outcome never bothered him. He does not subscribe to an overly self-critical mindset. In many sessions Jordan wanted to paint a favorite item like a new watch, his latest t-shirt, an Audi. He wanted help in executing these things.
But why should he paint? What can painting do for you? Many people testify that it makes you more sensitive to the colors around you; things seem more alive. I often notice that it changes breathing rhythm. There can be many other effects.
When Jordan wanted to paint the airplane taking him home to Jamaica, I suggested that he also paint the waves around the island. He enjoyed imitating the swishing noise of the surf as we painted the blue. I noticed that he needed the dissolving, flowing quality of the water, so there were a few paintings with similar themes. In the autumn the falling leaves of a tree became a wonderful movement of letting go. I could hear him sigh. What mattered was not actual painting, but the process of the experience.
Not every time turned out so well. In one session, we were trying to paint flowers and he got quite silly, splashing the paint. I had to bring things to a close before it escalated. As we were walking back to the school house, he noticed a little yellow flower by the roadside. He stopped in his tracks and shouted: “I made that!”
Another time Jordan announced that he wanted to paint purple. I gave him a very wide Japanese brush and told him that he could mix it himself. This became a whole new path of experience. He loved this magical happening and did not care about it looking like something recognizable. His posture changed too over time. He used to slouch, bent over his painting board. Now he sits more upright and awake with a sparkle in his eye. Jordan developed a new confidence. He loves mixing secondary colors. They were mostly applied in horizontal stripes. Sometimes he returned to forms like the sun and moon, but when I tried to direct him towards working further with them, he was dead against it. I guess he was becoming an abstract painter and I had better accept it! He really enjoyed the unfolding of the process. Sometimes I asked him if it still needed something else and without missing a beat, he replied, knowing exactly what he wanted.
Finally he managed to cover a whole picture again, feeling very proud and confident, as an artist in his own right. He has now completed twelfth grade and will move on to the Transition Program at Beaver Farm. We had a wonderful journey together. Thank you Jordan!