Death - the Great Escape
Forty-eight hours later, on the morning of April 15th, John died in his sleep from heart failure. On that day I cried like never before. It felt like the sun had vanished from the skies, and his demise broke many of his friends' hearts.
On the evening before his cremation I went with his son Jason and his daughter-in-law Kelly to bid farewell to John's 'mortal coil'. He looked strangely small and diminished in his white satin-lined coffin - as if a large part of his previously monumental 'life force' had already dissolved into the ether. In his right hand I placed a fine sable paintbrush, and in his left hand his favourite pipe. I placed a full tobacco pouch in one of his pockets, and a box of his Swan Vestas matches in the pocket above his heart - so that his heart could ignite from within before the flames began to consume the coffin. I kissed him goodbye and marked his eyes and mouth with sacred ash (vibhuti) and his forehead with vermilion powder, so that I might perhaps recognise him again in another lifetime.
We did our best in the time allotted to honour and celebrate John's life on this earth. It was hard to believe that this man, so much larger than life, had made his final and great escape. His spirit seemed to fill the house and pour forth from the dozens of paintings that filled every wall - and true to his life, there were many strange occurrences. John always thrived upon magic, upon tricking people into seeing beyond the 'seen', and his orgasmic energy seemed to permeate all like a cosmic joke. I felt that I grew a thousand years in those few hectic weeks.
After the funeral John's house needed to be emptied of his possessions, and I stayed on for several weeks to sort out the final things after his children, Cressida and Jason, had left. For most of these days I remained alone in the debris of John's life, trying to salvage everything that would enable me to reconstruct an accurate chronological record of his life and work. His kind neighbour's, Susan and Stephen Tobin, and a French artist friend of John's, Bruno Thibault, were always on call to help.
One evening, towards the end of this period, Bruno and I opened John's portfolios of unfinished and rejected paintings, which contained many works that I had never seen before. For the next twelve hours we brought out each of these paintings and let them 'speak' to us. John had always maintained that his paintings would 'speak for themselves', and in that stolen moment of a dark night - permeated by the presence of John's 'absence' - they spoke of the full genius of the man. Never in our lives had we directly borne witness to the revelation of such brilliance and wonder.
There is a scene in the movie 'Amadeus' - on the life of Mozart - where his jealous rival, Salieri, approaches the dying maestro to falsely offer help in transcribing his last musical scores. In this final act of betrayal Salieri realises for the first time the full magnitude of the God-given and unique genius of the Master that he had set out to destroy. Salieri is humbled to his bones as he recognises his own mediocrity in the light of Mozart's divine inspiration. This is perhaps the closest metaphor that I can find to convey what Bruno and I experienced on that night of illumination. It was a direct experience of the 'Life Force' - of looking straight into the eyes of the Soul of Art. She is immaculate in her nakedness and beautiful beyond belief. She has no name and she speaks very softly.
As I look out from deep within the shadows, the sunlight is piercingly bright. White railing dazzles; while hot, rich, red dahlias pulse in mellow splendour.
The barriers of time have gone and now I float immersed in an intense feeling of pure colour and light.
It does not matter anymore who I am. Nobody can hold me now as I have escaped from my body.
Tall shapes and laughter mix in distant spaces.
Insanity breaks the chains of duty and blindly follows love.
That which would show the greatest love can have me.
John F.B. Miles.