I had coffee last week with Rachael Solem, who’s hosting an exhibit of artist Tucker Stilley’s works at the Harding House in Cambridge, MA.  I’d gotten the postcard, an image of human eyes looking out of a page of colors, but I didn’t really ‘get’ it.

Tucker Stilley Self Portrait

That was before I had coffee with Rachael.  It was before I connected the story of Tucker Stilley with the art of Tucker Stilley.  And that connection is huge.

Here’s why you need to care about Tucker Stilley, I found myself saying to myself afterwards:

  • Like you, he’s an artist.
  • Like you, he has challenges.
  • Like (or unlike) you, he uses his challenges to inform his art.
  • But unlike you his challenges are intensely focused and distilled because of his ALS. And “intensely” in this case is an understatement.

He lives inside a body that’s almost completely disconnected from his hugely active mind. The connection between the inside and outside is narrowed down to his ability to affect a computer cursor with slight movements of his head.  He breathes via a breathing tube.

Remember when you learned about the autonomic system in your body, and how breathing is automatic?

For him, it’s not.  Each day he has to decide to breath, to live. Do you decide?

Should that matter when it comes to experiencing his art?    He might say no.  He might say his art should speak for itself.

Tucker Stilley and Family circa 2009?

I say that wanting our art to speak for itself is a way of hiding from our own humanity and – especially – from our mortality.  As if we could go on speaking through it forever.  We don’t.  Even if it does.

And the fact is that I – and this is just me – need to know the story of just about any work of art before I ‘get’ it. This is why my own work is always a mix of story and music in some form or other.

So Stilley became art to me over coffee last week.   An artist who embodies his work — whose work embodies him.  And that is deeply inspiring.

He’s not just transparent –  he’s beyond transparent, taking a singular human experience and revealing that experience through his art. 

In other words:  What we all aspire to do as artists.

He is doing it.  And that’s hugely important and inspiring to me as an artist.

The power of his art is in its reveal – its revelation – which he does  both in practical ways, like the video he made showing how he uses the software Eyesight to connect with his computer (see below) — and in the heightened reveal of art,  like his character, New Jack Rasputin, in The Permanent Record, who travels to places few mortals would venture, leaving behind his useless body, and finding strength in curiosity, courage, compassion and inventiveness. (see the right sidebar “About Me” at the New Jack Rasputin link above)

Tucker Stilley is an astronaut to places you’re afraid to go; his art reveals what he finds there.  There is no greater explorer.  No greater exploration.

Are you glad he has ALS?  No. This should happen to no one.

Are you ecstatic, madly, intoxicatingly grateful that he’s ferociously maintaining his commitment to being there as an artist?   Yes, Yes, YES!

Was he always an artist who revealed so much?  I have no idea.  But he does now.  And that’s deeply important to you – to your understanding, to the breadth of your perception.

Stilley Artwork

So how do you support that huge value to your life?  I asked Rachael and she said:  “What’s so amazing about Tucker’s work since he was diagnosed with ALS is the community of people who knew his art and music before, but see how much more productive and brilliant he is now.  His blogs, the way he connects information from everywhere, sifting it with compassion and wry wit, with patience and practical love.  And you can buy his prints through is web site: http://www.tuckerstilley.com.”

I poked around the web to see what else I could find, though I don’t know how current these links are:

Here is a link to the Harding House blog, with info about the exhibit.

And now …. how do you take what he’s sharing as an artist and use it to empower your own work?

OK … that’s the question you have to answer … and then live inside it.

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