Soul at White Heat, 2016
In one of her best known poems, Emily Dickinson asks her reader “Dare you see a soul at the White Heat?” The poet goes on to weave a metaphor in which a soul being battered by adversities is compared to a piece of metal in the blacksmith’s forge as it undergoes the white heat of formation and purification. In this comparison, the soul that undergoes the brutal and sometimes violent plunges into the forge of trials eventually emerges white-hot and ready for whatever purpose the blacksmith has designed.
This poem has taken on special significance for me during the year since I stood outside my apartment and watched as flames consumed it and everything within. Walking through the charred wreckage of my possessions, once the flames had been extinguished, it was particularly difficult to see my artwork twisted, burned and covered in soot. In that moment, the painful forge that Dickinson writes about seemed a fierce and literal reality in my life.
The process of rebuilding my life and mourning the loss of my home and the precious things inside of it has been long and difficult. It has required me to look for beauty and hope in unusual places and to think about the ways that loss can actually highlight other blessings that remain in our lives. One of the practical ways I wrestled with these ideas was to take pieces of burned and soot-covered artwork from the fire and incorporate them into a new series of work. At first it was difficult to salvage, dissect and rework these damaged pieces. The soot on my hands and the smell of smoke was a constant reminder of what had happened. But as a new series of work began to emerge from the ashes of the old, the pain of this remembrance was slowly replaced by joy at seeing something broken and ruined transformed into something new and restored!
I have titled this show “Soul at White Heat” because, like the ore in Dickinson’s poem, anyone who enters the forge and experiences the searing pain of loss cannot help but be changed and purified of old ways of thinking. This new artwork, created from pieces I feared were lost, is a reminder that God, like the blacksmith, is always capable of forming and transforming us into something entirely new and for His purposes.