A few weeks ago, I went to see an exhibition of works by Armenian artists in Glendale, which neighbors Los Angeles. It was a serious exhibition commemorating the genocide, so I was not expecting to experience much joy as I walked around the galleries. However, one painting in which a delicate pencil drawing of a crow emerged from a bold black splash of ink caught my eye. When I glanced at the label to see who the artist was, I gasped, “Joanne!”
The painting was the work of an artist who I had worked with when I first joined Pacific Asia Museum as a curator. Joanne’s mixed media works that blend meticulously detailed drawings with spontaneous calligraphic brush strokes are influenced by Japanese brushwork and Zen minimalism, so she had been given a solo show at the museum and I worked with her to install it. As well as being an artist, she was also an art professor at a local college and ran the college art gallery, where we arranged to take an exhibition of the museum’s Pacific Island material, so I helped her with that exhibition too. Over the few months that we worked together we found many points of connection – a Middle Eastern heritage, a love of Japanese aesthetics, and a drive to work hard – and we soon became close friends. I was also in awe of her because, not only was she an extraordinary artist and a well loved educator, but she also had a daughter, had gone through a divorce and breast cancer, and was still one of the warmest, most encouraging and elegant women I had ever met. As I gazed at her painting, I wondered how on earth we had lost each other and resolved to fix that as soon as I could.
When I got home, I tracked down her email address on her website and wrote her a brief email explaining who I was and how delighted I’d been to discover her painting that day. She wrote back immediately, we “friended” each other on Facebook, and we were soon talking on the phone, catching up on the last 15 (!) years. She filled me in on her recent retirement from teaching, her daughter’s career, her new studio, her horrible car accident. I told her about my marriage, our child, the ups and downs of my career and our house fire. A heck of a lot of life can happen in 15 years! It had been a shame to miss all these moments in each other’s lives, but once we’d reconnected, it became very clear that we both wanted to make sure not to lose touch again. Right away, Joanne came up with a plan for us to gather with two other wonderful art world friends at her studio in Oxnard, which is an hour from here. I took along my photographer brother, who is visiting for a few weeks, and we all sat outside on the patio of Joanne’s studio enjoying a beautiful summer lunch and sharing our experiences of the art world. Across the table sat Joanne, the hostess of the unique gathering, as warm and elegant as ever.
This morning, before I left home, I chose a gift for Joanne. It was a summer tea bowl, which I bought in Japan many years ago. I loved it because of its shallow form and also the yin-yang-like glaze pattern that looks simple but was probably very hard to accomplish. With its drama and simplicity and hint of spirituality, it seemed like something Joanne would appreciate. There is an expression in the realm of the Japanese tea ceremony, ichigo-ichie (literally, “one time, one meeting”), that reminds us to cherish our encounters with others, because each is a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence. Today’s gathering was indeed one to cherish. And I promise Joanne that we won’t have to wait another 15 years for our next one.