“Beauty, in a way, justifies our existence.”
–François Cheng, Oeil ouvert et coeur battant
My cousin Robb and I grew up amongst lawyers. Drawn to the arts, we both forged paths that were atypical in our family. Robb became a painter, and I studied literature. We were both teachers.
Last week, Robb died unexpectedly. I feel the pain of this loss in my bones. And memories arise. When we were little, large family gatherings at Grandma and Grandpa’s farm were a wall of noise—wild children waiting for the Easter egg hunt to begin, or, in December, demanding to know when Santa Claus would arrive. We existed in a joyful, buzzing mass of cousins.
Happily, Robb and I got to know one another as adults. Once we met at Caribou Coffee and spent a few hours talking about our favorite museums and gossiping about our siblings. A few years back, I attended one of his shows—in a parking ramp! It was brilliant! The curvy, cavernous, concrete space allowed me to see the genius of his bright and bold paintings. To no one’s surprise, our cool cousin Robb put on a cool show. It is the most cosmopolitan Des Moines, Iowa has ever felt to me.
That evening, my brother and his wife purchased their first Robert Spellman piece, detail of which I share in this post. It hangs in their front hallway, and my eyes fall on it each time I enter their home. Robb left the painting untitled, explaining to my sister-in-law, “this started as a woman and morphed into so much more.” I see echoes of the organized chaos that defined the Spellman get-togethers of our childhood. In Robb’s energetic swirls, I see us charging through Grandma’s house, fueled by sugar and time with cousins. I sense the members of a family gathering around tables. In the center, I see Oneness.
My cousin experienced beauty and created beauty. There is also beauty in our grief. We loved Robb. He graced us with his attention, his presence, and his art. His life was beautiful, and he leaves beauty in his wake.