essays by shé


“Paint the ocean,” said my dad, but I didn’t dare. His huge 3D map of northern California covered a wall of his house, sans sea, and I was afraid to screw it up. I was fifteen.

Back in kindergarten, though, I painted a picture for my mother every day, so she would be alive when I got home. She was pregnant and bedridden, and the story was that she would die if she got up. (She often got up.) My favorite painting from that era was thick lines of alternating orange and brown hues, creating a square tunnel effect. A family friend was impressed, “Perspective!”

Eventually Mom gave birth to a healthy baby boy, whom I called Didi. Painting pictures faded, and Didi became the artist. Later I painted my face and body, then became an actor-dancer, proficient in character make-up and costumes. Then a writer, painting with words.

One day my young artist friend Maureen left her body suddenly and for good. Shocked, I signed up for art class, as a way to grieve. One of my pieces featured actual seaweed and stylized ocean folk. During a summer job, I painted scenery for a teen-written performance piece, and helped another friend with a mural.

Then a girlfriend got the idea to make a fish ladder out of a wooden utility ladder. (We lived in salmon country.) She created a school of beaten copper fish and asked me to paint water on the ladder, from sea to stream. I put it off, thinking, again, that I didn’t want to screw it up, but she persisted.

It was gorgeous.

I’ve always loved color and texture and shape and design. I created letterpress books bound with ribbons, elaborate guerrilla poetry pieces and flotillas, and painted sea creatures on furniture. I whitewashed the walls of my Hicks Lake shack in broad swooshes, and, in Flagler Beach, added cinnamon-colored sand to pigment, experimenting on big canvases. A Hawaiian friend gave me a tube of gold Liquitex for my birthday, and I had a field day.

The extreme joy of painting is anchored in the fact that I don’t have to be good at it. I can just do it for me. Just for fun.

Elizabethan Ocean Woman by Shé, acrylic on canvas, 2022





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