Last week  I went up to Athens, Ga to spend time with one of my oldest friends, C.

C in Madison, GA

C on her back deck in Athens, GA

I have known C since we were three, yet the trajectory of our friendship has not been a straight line.  We always had a mutual fondness for things and found beauty where others did not: first it was Oliver & Co., the sad tale of a down and out cat in NYC, then it was Kate Chopin’s “The Awakening” where we were the only two in our 10th grade English class to identify with Edna as feminists. C was the only one to truly get my 8th grade story about my budding sexuality, and our outing to see “Boys Don’t Cry” in High School had us holed up at a coffee shop for hours into the night – my first real experience with intellectual, creative explosion.  C asked me up in Athens what would happen if we ever were around each other on a regular basis. Would these impassioned outpourings continue? Would we settle into some sort of creative rhythm? Or would it all fizzle out? I told her I thought it would be much the same, though our voice boxes may take a beating.

©Caitlin Kelley

©Caitlin Kelley

Our real creative collaboration started in 2008.  I moved to New York from London, and was delighted one day to find a note from C in my inbox saying she had just moved to New York as well and wanted to meet up (thanks, Facebook!). It had been roughly 7 years since I had seen or spoken to C, so was filled with anxious excitement to see her. To me, and most people, C epitomizes ‘cool’.  She has her own style and the best, ridiculously-hard-to-tame curly hair.  I was working at the Guggenheim as an archivist, so we met at the museum to take in the Louise Bourgeois retrospective. From the moment we started the spiral ascent, it was clear our ideas of beauty and art were still in sync.  What we intuitively felt at the age of three watching Oliver & Co. was now made obvious: our lives are intrinsically intertwined and we gather inspiration from each other – so much so that we often refer to that day in New York as the day we fell in art-love with each other.  That afternoon we walked down 5th Avenue from 88thSt. to the East Village with little recognition of the time passing by as we were so caught up in catching each other up on every thought that has ever passed through our minds.

Drawing I made of C when we were in Amsterdam together. It's titled "girl with hoop earrings"

Our lives continue to move in circular patterns, newly overlapping as we each (separately) decided to move back to GA. C splits her time between Athens, Tanzania (where she is starting an amazing NGO called African Volunteer Corps) and New York, so I was glad to finally get the chance to spend quality time with her.  We set out from Athens and headed down 441 toward Madison in C’s rented Prius. We pulled into the Farmington Depot Gallery, which is an artist run collective housed in an old train depot.

Unknown Artist, hung at one of the buildings adjacent to the Art Depot

The work in there was fantastic, and we were able to talk to one of the wood workers. He told us that there were buildings further down the tracks that some of the artists use as studios – they’re all abandoned cotton seed oil plants.

We didn’t mind the sweat and heat as we clamored through the buildings. Somehow the heat just fits when you’re in the country.

C taking photographs

On our second day together, the conversation landed on the topic of the creative process – as it always does.  This time we began to discuss what it means to have and/or be a muse.  I use the term “muse” to mean someone who inspires creativity.  As a twist on the dictionary definition, you can think of it as a person who causes you to be absorbed or lost in thought.

C on the tracks behind her house

There have been several people throughout my life who have inspired and pushed me, but only a couple can be raised to the canonical, and perhaps tumultuous, state of being my muse. C is one such person, and we have a unique relationship in that I am one for her as well.

C in the woods

©Caitlin Kelley

Each time we get together there is a balancing act about who is taking inspiration when.  It feels great to have someone I can completely bounce my ideas off of without fear.  She always gives thought to what I say and do, and I try and do the same for her.  It’s validating and refreshing and energizing and exhausting all at once.  I find my work is fresher after spending time with C, and I have new material to work with.

Woman standing (red), Acrylic on paper.

There is new life breathed into it.  As with any relationship, the one between artist and muse is never simple especially when other feelings are involved.  One muse that I lost still brings me sadness – and even anger – because I do not have access to this muse.  I was left cold with no warning, with no closure.  Why would someone walk away from inspiration? I brought this idea up with C:  how does the artist/ muse relationship work? How selfish is it in the end? What happens when one person no longer wants to be part of the equation?  Can I be justified in wanting to throw a temper tantrum at the thought that I may never speak to this person again?  C advised me that there can be something inspiring in the loss.  How does the void and pain inform me as an artist?  So now I am left to contemplate these ideas… and feel lucky that I her and others in my life to keep me inspired.