The flame erupts from the top of her head, seeking something beyond itself, beyond the canvas on which she is drawn. Amazon-ian in stature, detached in expression, powerful in her brawny nudity, the woman stands unconsumed by the blaze of the reds and yellows igniting from within her. She is a conduit, and so, you could say, is her creator, Orlando artist A.E. London, who calls her painting, "The Fuse." London, whose large wildlife portraits line the walls of her Orlando studio, has worked on various configurations of the female character in "Fuse" for two years now, but with the violence of Sept. 11, a haphazard sketch became a portal for rage and sorrow.
"I needed to channel what I was feeling," says London, whose "Fuse" goes on exhibit Saturday, Dec. 8, in Valencia Community College's East Campus Gallery for its Seventh Annual Faculty Invitational. "The figure in the painting is caught in a moment of looking inward, and yet not being consumed by the anger. ... She is allowing the anger to come through her, but not become her. ... She retains her identity and ideals."
Serving as a bridge between what is known and unknown, what is easily comprehended and what is not, is the job of the artist. But how does an artist respond to events that seem to defy comprehension: the calculated extermination of 6 million Jews, the killing fields of Bosnia, the smoking tomb of New York City's ground zero?
London's first response has come lucidly and quickly, perhaps because "The Fuse" was a work already in progress, and perhaps because of its specific focus on feminine power. But London acknowledges that a deep artistic response to such carnage will take time. "I would be suspicious of a very polished presentation `at this time`. I would have to really look hard at that."
Exploring the emotional and spiritual wounds of Sept. 11 through his ongoing Gallery Art and Peace enterprise in Winter Park (open by appointment; 407-677-8835), the artist known only as Jamali agrees -- to a point. "Traumas like this don't tend to change living artists. They might change artists who are being born right now, but not artists who are just working. ... Art is not taught. You are born with a psychology, the influences which you have received."
But that is not stopping Jamali, who moved to the United States from his native Pakistan 30 years ago. The artist, who often uses his feet to create his paintings, did so again in making "Burial Ground," a rendering that inescapably takes the viewer to the tortured battleground where the twin towers once stood. Look closely and you'll see the outline of bloody footprints in the mudlike surface of the pigment. For Jamali, the footprints symbolize the memories of who we are as human beings.
"Grief is always personal, and grief is always silent. There needs to be silence -- long, long silence. `The artistic response` has to come out of silence and meditation." Jamali believes a generation should pass before artists in general tackle the events of Sept. 11: "Otherwise, it is just a reflex or a rhetoric response."
A brief trip into art history exacts the lesson: It was nearly a generation after the Napoleonic Wars when the Spanish master, Francisco de Goya, created the devastating "Disasters of War" paintings. It was 1966 when Mauricio Lasansky completed his 33 "Nazi Drawings." But it is the nature of artists to create, and who is to say how long a gestation period any one artist will require before he is ready to lay down his vision, whether it be perfect or imperfect?
It may be different for those artists involved in theater. A stage offers the director and actors a space that is not fixed like the space on a canvas. Dialogue can be manipulated, characterizations reinterpreted, motivations reinvigorated. Alan Bruun, co-artistic director of Orlando's Mad Cow Theatre Company, says that if anything positive can be derived from the aftermath of Sept. 11, it's a sense of community, which theater can provide. "I believe the potential exists more now for that to be something that is desirable to audiences ... not just to go and see dancing cats or chandeliers fall, but to go and find out something about themselves." Bruun says theater is then able to provide its actors and audience members with the opportunity to share experiences and "have a dialogue."
What sort of dialogue could one share with a poet after Sept. 11? The carefully constructed word choices and rhythmical phrasings inherent to poetry may require their own gestation period.
"For poets, I think it takes a very long time," says Orlando writer Pat James. "I don't think, as poets, we are ready to see what these images `of the destruction of the World Trade Center` have done in terms of our world view and the images we seek. But I did find myself thinking at a stoplight that everything seemed to mean more than the clear signal it used to." James, who has published some 30 poems in her 60 years, reached for pencil and paper as she sat in her car, an action that resulted in the lines that form "In October, 2001":
All red lights seem to mean more than stop/ The green more than go
The white lines on the highway, James says, "brought back the anthrax situation we're dealing with. It's like we have a little set of prayer beads changing before us."
I could discuss the end of the world/ on every street corner, at every turn, every stop/ on every day I make this trip
James believes that artists will turn to their creative work to heal themselves. Whatever byproduct of healing the rest of us might share, we are reminded of the cost in the last few lines of her poem.
I am stuck again at this light and keep being stuck/ keep finding September '01/ that knife in the heart/ of all the calendars that ever existed.