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In a Bull's Eye

"Nothing Gold Can Stay." -Robert Frost-

By M.C. Murphy Published 3 years ago Updated 2 years ago 9 min read
The Beautiful Bull of Santa Fe

My Grandma, the eternal eclectic, had lived in Southern California since she was a young teenager. Growing up a farm girl in rural Colorado, her early years spent in an old one room schoolhouse, I can only imagine the culture shock it must have been starting high school in Long Beach. Yet she fit in immediately. Even on the farm, she had always had the heart of an artist. All the flair and eccentricity to make it as a Golden Era Hollywood actress. Luckily for me, she chose to be a full time Mom instead.

She would perform for us though. Most people only keep costumes for Halloween. Grandma had half a closet full of them for family plays she would orchestrate or practical jokes. I experienced many of her antics myself but the ones I had not yet been born for became legend. She once dressed up so completely unrecognizable and was able to disguise her voice to the point even her own Husband and children didn't know who she was. This performance was staged at an annual family picnic. With a costume change in a Long Beach park bathroom, her role became that of a long lost relative. The fact that she knew everyone's names and relations only furthered the mass confusion. My family was polite but nervous and most of all, bewildered at who this person may be. She was able to keep this madness going for well over an hour before her Uncle finally looked a little closer and hesitantly asked, "Phyllis?"

This was her crowing glory of practical jokes.

Second place undoubtedly went to donning a gorilla costume no one knew she had while her Husband and Son watched "Planet of the Apes." She slowly rose up in the backyard behind the floor to ceiling window that reflected the TV. Her Son did a triple take from TV to window before diving off the couch, spilling his popcorn everywhere. Her Husband, chill as ever, simply said "What the HELL is that?" Yet stayed put on the couch. Apparently it would take more than a gorilla in the backyard to disturb him when he was comfortable.

My Grandparents moved to the San Fernando Valley to raise my Mom and Uncle. Yet all the decades my Grandma had lived in Los Angeles, and with all the art she had created herself, she had never seen an artist colony before. We always talked about it but never went. It's a strange phenomenon when you live somewhere, you never seem to see all of the tourist destinations others come from across the world to see. In 2018, I finally decided enough was enough and I would show her The Santa Fe Art Colony.

Nestled in Old Los Angeles, it had been a haven for working artists for over thirty years. The buildings were primarily untouched red brick. Remnants of the old textile mill dating back to 1916 remained with its faded painted advert somehow still visible a century later. The architecture alone was a sight to see. I knew immediately this would be far different than any art exhibition or museum I had ever experienced. The area surrounding the haven was rough, worn down by the years of economic crisis in L.A. Yet once through the weathered gate, this was a different world. A better world.

A woman with bright blue hair was walking kittens on a leash, wearing a bikini top and combat boots. A Model-T was parked under a large oak and nothing about it being there felt strange. Repurposed planters full of flowers and vines covered this space, in every object imaginable. The bones of this place were of an ancient and crumbling industrial complex but the people here had made it something new, a world all their own. Art was everywhere. Sculptures, colorful glass bottles hanging from the trees, melodic homemade wind chimes. It was almost too much for all the senses to take in. All this color, all these oddities, all this beauty.

The artists of Santa Fe had rent controlled lofts, a fourth of what the area would command. Some had odd jobs, others were full time artists but ALL were free. Free to live and be and express exactly how they wanted. You could feel this joy of freedom in the air and see it in their faces. This was not your average tour. It was mellow and unrestricted. The people here were taking time out of their day to welcome us into their actual homes. A few were even creating pieces as we walked up. At first it felt intrusive. That feeling did not last long. An older man who painted sharks and sharks alone in neon colors made sure of that with his jovial demeanor. A woman a few units down created still life photography. Another, sketches of clothing. Next door over, surrealist sculptures reminiscent of Hieronymus Bosch. We were free to explore anywhere we wanted on the grounds and given unit numbers that were open to the public that day. My Grandma, Brother, Cousin and I were the only ones there. Grandma was in heaven and seeing the awe and happiness written on her face only furthered mine. I marveled at the sheer peace I felt just being among these incredible people. I felt envy, wondering if I could ever feel or live that freely, own that peace.

As art is, all of the pieces were beautiful in their own way but our last stop brought me to unexpected tears. Our last stop gifted me with a piece that will be burned into my memory forever. Everyone was unbelievably kind but you could tell the introverts from the extroverts and the woman in the last unit of the day fell into the latter. She welcomed us with REAL hugs, as if we were family she had not seen in ages. Her excitement and zeal for life was infectious in the best of ways. Her art was full of color and spice. Bright yellow marigolds contrasted skulls. She explained to us that she created pieces based in her Latin American heritage. An admirer of Dia de los Muertos and how closely it resembled the Celtic holiday of Samhain, I was in love. Honoring and remembering those we have loved and lost but remembering, the love is still there. It does not leave with the leaving of their earthly presence. Remembering their lives rather than their deaths always felt better to me. It felt like that would be the way they wanted it. But most importantly, remembering. American culture seems to want to forget, after the "appropriate" period, perhaps because the grief is too much or maybe because we are taught to grieve alone after the allotted time frame. I once heard that grief is the final act of love we show. But I've always believed, they wouldn't want ONLY grief to surface in our memories of them. We should remember them alive, we should remember the love.

With my adoration for this culture, I browsed each bright piece with a smile until something stopped me, jolted me. Something that didn't quite fit in her theme. Something that brought out a rush of emotion I was not expecting that day. It was a much darker piece. There were no vivid colors. It was simply a painting of a bull from the neck up, turned to its side to see you, to see me. The eye of a bull looked into me, through me. The expression in that eye was one of a wise forgiveness. A gentle, yet tired understanding. Images of Matadors luring them in with red only to plunge spears into their bodies until the trapped animal died, confused and afraid while hundreds cheered. The photographs I had seen that I wish I hadn't of that caped man standing over a broken and beaten animal, foot on its bloody corpse, hands up in victory, filled me with fury. Thoughts of the electric prods and castration without sedation or anything for the pain came rushing in. Baby seals looking up innocently, curiously and helpless before being beaten to death. The blood of those babies staining the pure white snow. Red capes, red blood. Red clouded my vision. Whales capable of experiencing complex emotions eerily similar to ours, including self awareness and deep mourning, joy, being speared out of existence. Countless healthy dogs and cats being killed, confused, alone, afraid, due to overcrowding from over breeding. Puppy mills killing the ones not cute enough or too old for the pet shops. Animals abandoned and starving to death or being run down in the streets. The horrors of factory farms. The tying down of lambs, never to walk, just so their meat will be tender.. for us. The cages so small and packed that animals can't move their entire lives and forced to live in their own filth, never knowing kindness, never knowing freedom. The hunting for heads to be stuffed and part of decor like a new lamp. The piles of dead dogs being forced to fight and kill each other. The bait dogs that never stood a chance. The encroachment on habitat and killing of animals desperate and terrified enough to come into developments. The vast amount of animals endangered or now permanently erased, because of us. It all came rushing out from the look in the eye of this beautiful bull existing only in oil paint. His eye said to me "I forgive you." And it broke me. I tried to hide my tears from my host, and she put her arm around me and said "I know. I love the animals too." I didn't have to say a word. She knew everything I was feeling. She felt it herself when creating this masterpiece. I remembered thinking of the Mona Lisa in that moment. She only ever became famous because she was stolen. I never saw anything exceptional in that painting, nor did anyone else apparently until it disappeared. This piece.. I was seeing my own Mona Lisa for a ticket that was next to nothing. I didn't have to fly to Paris, I just had to fight L.A. traffic to see it. The smallest of sacrifices. I hugged my host, she felt like family in that moment and always will.

Now I wonder if this brilliant artist is still there. I wonder where the bull went. Not but a year later, The Colony was bought out by a large corporation. The residents fought back by getting it established as a historical landmark, thinking it would limit the new owners ability to build and hike up the rent from $800 to $4000 a month. It did not. I fear now the Santa Fe Art Colony will become nothing more than rich, curated galleries. A dime a dozen in that city. I was lucky enough to see it before this happened but with most of the long time tenants well gone, some now homeless, I think back to the eyes of the bull. We don't just subjugate and abuse animals, we have done and will continue to do it to fellow human beings too. History will repeat itself until the lesson is learned both individually and as a whole. That only ever comes at rock bottom. And I fear our rock bottom will be too late.

The Colony was a rare thing. It had been untouched by corporate greed and free enterprise running out of control, far beyond how Capitalism was designed, for three decades. I still don't know how it survived as long as it had to be honest. We live in a corporation disguised as a country. I have not told my Grandma. I hope she never finds out. She bonded with these beautiful people as much as I did. She left Santa Fe feeling free by proxy. I worry so much for the artists I met and all the ones I did not have the pleasure to. I had no idea of this buyout until I looked up The Santa Fe Art Colony for this piece. I simply wanted to get my history right seeing as it's been three years. I wonder where my friend and her bull are. My heart sank reading about the Miami mogul who invaded this Holy Space. I cannot, no matter how I have tried, bring myself to sat what the bull said to the rest of humanity: "I forgive you." And in that I see what I have always known, human beings are the smartest animals, the apex predators, but, collectively, we are the damage here. We always have been and we always will be until.. we are gone from this place. I wish we could come together to fight the injustice, but I fear it is too far gone. We have been blinded by a smoke screen for too long. We have been divided by distraction for too long.

What began as a simple outing with my Grandma, became so much more, all through a bulls eye. All through a look. A look I hope I can someday give this world, but I doubt I ever will.


About the Creator

M.C. Murphy

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    M.C. Murphy Written by M.C. Murphy

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