Blake, Annie. The Common Gold. 2019.
On Friday, my friend Annie was diagnosed with Stage 4 pancreatic cancer.
There are thousands of words that can follow those eleven words. I’ve spent the past few days sorting through them. They words are scattered around my heart and head and bedroom, the raging ones, the hopeful ones, the sorrowful ones. I pick through them every day, holding some up and putting others down.
Today my hands are full of these words. Can I hand them to you?
I want you to know what it is like to visit Annie’s house.
Annie is an artist and so her home is composed. Composed as in composition, not composed as in controlled. Annie is not much for control and so her children’s breakfast plates might be on the table and if they’re not, they’re probably in the sink. Because they are in Annie’s sink they feel intentional, she’ll put her canvas in the kitchen and paint them, maybe. Blake, Annie. Eating As a Child. 2013.
The kitchen that greets you right after Annie opens the front door. The kitchen is almost as warm as Annie, but not quite because nothing is as warm as Annie. The kitchen and the living room are held together by a big kitchen table. In the winter there are candles on the table. This scene is lit by light that streams color into the room every morning, afternoon and evening. When Annie was new to the house and I was perched on her couch she told me the windows felt meant for her. The windows might have been meant for Annie. I think Annie is meant for windows. She knows what to do with the light they let in. Blake, Annie. Shifting Light. 2015.
I say I was perched on the couch but that isn’t right. You don’t have to perch on the places Annie provides. You sink in. She’ll sit on the floor while you sit on the couch. There is a fireplace made of carved stone in the living room. Its mantle holds paintings, found objects and plants. There might be a miniature tableau on the mantle. Annie makes miniature scenes, little mid century chairs sitting beneath fine art an inch wide, a little rug strewn with little toys. She can distill the big to the small as readily as she makes little things large. Blake, Annie. Still Small Life. 2014. There will be a picture or two drawn by her kids, partially covering fine art made by Annie. Blake, Annie. Double Vision. 2009.
Sitting between the solidity of the fireplace and the solidity of Annie, you’ll feel safe enough to talk. You can look at her while you speak, or your eyes can find grounding in the charcoal wall opposite the couch. Annie knows darkness grounds. I sat in Annie’s living room with friends the first time I talked openly about my changing faith. I kept my eyes on that wall. There is space in Annie’s house for shifting spectrums other than the changing light. A wooden beam runs across her living room ceiling and into a doorway that leads to a hall. Every room leads to another in Annie’s house. She has nothing to hide. You’re supposed to get up and move to the next space. Blake, Annie. Build With Beams that Bend. 2017.
If you walk down that hall, you’ll get to Annie’s room. Her bedroom is down the hall too. The one she shares with Simon, who she loves and who loves her. Blake, Annie. Every Morning We Have Is Enough. 2022. But when I say Annie’s room I mean her art studio. One time when I walked into her room, there were so many canvases stacked on top of each other the window was partially blocked. And still, the light got in. It found Annie. And she used up the found light in her work. Even her darkest paintings vibrate with captured light. Blake, Annie. Black Holes Contain Light. 2020.
This house has children because it is Annie’s house and Annie has children. Their school supplies topple on tables and their clothes are on the floor. If you turn left instead of going down the hall to Annie’s room, you’ll find a set of stairs. They take you to the basement. In my memory, Annie’s basement sprouts green strips of grass. Really, Annie laid down green squares of carpet across a cement floor. Blake, Annie. Hard Things Made Green. 2013. The basement is a playroom and there are paintings on the wall. Your children can cry in Annie’s basement. They can fight and make up too. There is room for them there the same way there was room for you in the living room. Annie knows that childhood contains conflict. Children can tell she knows and feel comfortable being conflicted around her. Blake, Annie. Safe Enough to Fight. 2018. I remember a white steel pole in the middle of the basement, helping to hold the house up. It’s been so long since I was down there. Maybe there is no pole, maybe I just remember Annie. Blake, Annie. Structural Integrity. 2032.
I could describe the design elements of Annie’s house. I could talk about its mid century lines, original fixtures and its Miesian silhouette. And all those things are lovely. They are. But I think Annie’s house would feel like Annie’s house no matter the design. A home where complexity is celebrated. A dwelling with rooms made for room. A structure oriented to catch visible light and cradle through invisible darkness.
I want you to know what it is like to visit Annie’s house. She’s there right now. Knock, she’ll let you in. Blake, Annie. House Still Standing. 2041.
A weeping update: Annie died December 16, 2020.
Annie K Blake was a true fine artist and true fine person. She is loved and love keeps her with us even when she's gone. Want to love her too? Just get to know her. Visit her site. Sit her still standing Instagram community.
Thank you so much for reading homeculture. If you liked what you read here, consider subscribing. Think you know someone who’d like this essay? I’d love for you to share it! Join in on the community conversation. We talk a lot on Instagram and Twitter. If you really loved this this piece and want to leave me a little tip? Consider buying me 9 minutes of childcare so that I can keep writing.