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Blog

Unfinished Work

Jayne English

Sagrada_Familia_nave_roof_detail “The sad thing is they could try to finish it/But I don't think they will do it.”—The Alan Parsons Project

When Antoni Gaudí began work on the La Sagrada Família Basilica in 1883, he knew he would never complete the project himself. He took his time on the Gothic and Art Nouveau structure, supposedly commenting “my client isn’t in a hurry.” Construction continues today and the plan is to have it completed in 2026 to mark the century since Gaudí’s death. On the album Gaudí, the Alan Parsons Project laces through its tracks a sense of loss for what’s left unfinished with lines like, “Follow the light of truth as far as our eyes can see/How should we know where that may be? How should we know?”

I lost two artists from my life this past year. One, a dear Facebook friend, and the other, my well-loved mom. My grief for them is accented by a feeling of loss for their unfinished works. Elizabeth was working on a memoir. I was among a dozen or so friends who received her drafts as she completed them. I looked forward to holding her book in my hands and tracing her steps through the weaving of her work and words. I wanted to see which of her paintings she’d match with each chapter, recalling particular periods of her life. One I hoped she’d include was a creative depiction of mud pies that she considered pairing with her story of how, as a five-year-old, she decorated mud pies with what she found in her garden; feathers and flowers, then stored them to dry under her bed. This was an early memory in the life of an artist who opened a window for me to a world that was vibrant in color and fluid in motion. I could never put into words exactly what her work expressed for me, but seeing it come through my newsfeed on a daily basis removed the “film of familiarity,” as Coleridge said, and I began to see art, and often life, differently. As I miss her, I ache to see these works finished. Parsons’ words are a lament, “The sands of time won't wait and it may be too late.”

My mom painted with oils, acrylics and, my favorite, colored pencils. Wildlife was her muse. She painted horses, dogs, koalas, giraffes. But she often challenged herself by painting a Pacific coast, or a copy of an Ansel Adams. She generously painted and gave away family portraits or pet portraits for friends who asked. Just a week or so before she died, she told me she wanted to make paintings of photographs my son had taken of an owl and great egret. She had also been contemplating moving toward abstract art. I will now never see the world interpreted through her abstract perspective. These works have become “Secrets for keeping that won't see the light.” There’s also the element that as part of her “creation” she has left me, in a sense, unfinished.

Who knows where the road may lead us, only a fool would say Who knows what's been lost along the way Look for the promised land in all of the dreams we share How will we know when we are there? How will we know? Only a fool would say.

Christ’s words from the cross, It is finished, are consolation and sharp contrast to life's incompleteness. And while we can't know much of its mysteries, can anything be unfinished in eternity?

La Sagrada Família the war is won the battle's over La Sagrada Família for the lion and the lamb La Sagrada Família we thank the lord the danger's over La Sagrada Família behold the mighty hand La Sagrada Família the night is gone the waiting's over La Sagrada Família there's peace throughout the land.