Ed Gulley, Still Creating

One of Ed’s Drawings of a Tree

“Oh” I said to Ed, “now I get it.”

Ed and I were talking about his art, as we’ve done so many times before.

Except now he was laying in a hospital bed in his house and I was standing next to it, watching him draw.

A sketch pad was propped on a pillow on his lap, with two colored pencils beside it.  Because of his brain cancer Ed has no control over the left side of his body.  But he’s right-handed, so he can still draw, his right  arm propped up with another pillow.

“I look around me at all the knot holes in the paneling and see things” Ed told me.  ” I see faces, animals.  “I watch the sunlight on the ceiling and things appear to me. So I draw them.”

Earlier I watched as Ed seemed to be sleeping and his arm shot up above him, his hand moving in lyrical gestures like a conductor.  Ed was drawing invisible lines in the air, recreating the images he saw behind  his closed eyes.

Most of Ed’s drawing are ambiguous.

It’s not easy to pin them down.  They morph from a rabbit to an armadillo.  As he always saw animals and people in the rusty machinery lying around his farm, then welded them together to create turtles and geese and sheep and bulls, now Ed finds them in the walls and ceiling that have become his world.

The subject of Ed’s drawings may be ambiguous, but the marks he makes with his pencils are confident and intentional.  They’re filled with emotion whether hard and heavy or soft and twisting.

Watching him draw, I can see there are no mistakes. And I ask him about it.

“The image comes down my arm from my brain, to my hand and the pencil,” Ed  told me.

There’s no space between him and the image and the paper he’s drawing on.  The connection is direct and complete.  There’s no room for the translation from what he sees in his mind to what he draws on the paper to get lost or reinterpreted.

Jon has been visiting Ed almost everyday, taking videos, at Ed’s request, and writing about how Ed is dealing with brain cancer.

But I hadn’t seen Ed in a few days and the changes in his health seemed to be worsening quickly.

So we went to visit Ed and Carol before leaving for our belated Anniversary weekend celebration.   I went outside with Carol  to hang clothes and visit Destiny,  one of their cows, and Jon took another video of Ed.

In the video Jon talked to Ed about dying.

I admired the strength of both of them to be able to be so honest about it.  Jon, slipping into his reporter mode, asked Ed direct questions and Ed  thoughtfully answered him.  They are so easy with each other, their conversation so natural, it made their subject matter, death, seem almost ordinary.

For me, their conversation broke the taboos around talking about death.

This morning as were were on our way to MASS MOCA, the contemporary art museum in North Adams MA,  Jon read Carol’s latest post on her and Ed’s blog. Ed’s condition had worsened  enough for us to turn around and head back home.

On the way we stopped to at Ed and Carol’s.

Ed was better, awake and talking.  So we stayed and visited.

That’s when Ed asked for his sketchpad and pencils and started to draw.  As I watched him, I thought about Frida Kahlo painting, while she lay on her back in her hospital bed recovering from surgery.

Death will eventually stop all of us.

But it seems to me that  Ed’s going to continue creating any way he can for as long as he can.  Even if it’s in the form of drawing invisible lines in the air.




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