Two years ago, artist Bill Kucha lost everything when the house he shared with his wife, Dorothy, on Cape Foulweather burned in a Halloween fire. All his original artwork, the couple’s possessions, the 40-odd years of sweat and labor Kucha poured into restoring the old house, gone.
But out of that “holy hell of a fire,” came a fresh awareness, a sense of something lost, and now found.
“Before, I had been painting my heart out feeling there isn’t much love in this world,” Kucha said. “Earth is dying, people hungry on the streets.… No one cared. Then the fire came — I’ll tell you, I’ve never been filled with so much love from all over the world. That was a fundamental change in life. I had thought there wasn’t the love that was needed, but there is.”
Kucha is sharing his vision for what the future can be with 600 Years, what he calls a mixed-media “vertical altar in four panels.” He began creating the 8-by-4-foot panels in 2000 to address his concerns about the Earth. The artwork was lost in the fire, but the panels had been professionally photographed. Kucha transferred those images to full-sized reproductions on vinyl that he can roll up and take with him for his “artivist” presentations.
He explained: “I talk about what is happening to our Earth now, and I sing songs I write that go along with it. It’s a little performance piece. For 10 years, I’d been going to Salem to talk to folks about my concerns about the environment. I gave that up; I wasn’t good at it. I got pissed at the politicians. I’ve gone from activist to artivist.”
His next presentation is at 10 a.m. Dec. 3 at the Central Coast Unitarian Universalist Fellowship meeting in the Newport Visual Arts Center. The public is welcome.
Kucha originally planned to paint 600 Years as one piece, then realized he wouldn’t be able to transport it on his weekly trips to Portland to see his grandkids. His wife suggested he paint it on panels so it would fit in the back of the car.
600 Years depicts past extinctions of the Earth, including “the comet that hit the Earth and pretty much wiped everything out,” Kucha said. The second of the four panels depicts Earth as it is headed toward extinction now, exacerbated by the burning of fossil fuels. “We are on our way to becoming Mars. The fate of our Earth as it goes through, let’s call it a fever, is to help it out or die with it. It would be a shame if this beautiful thing called Mother Earth disappeared.”
While Kucha continues to paint, it’s no longer for commercial purposes, but “for the universe,” he said. When he’s not painting, he spends his time working in the garden that survived the fire and awaiting the day he and Dorothy can move into their new house this spring.
The old house was built in 1939, largely out of 4-by-4 crates, Kucha said. He dug out the basement. “I was an artist; I was poor and I built on things that were around. They call it a woodbutcher house, but it was a tender thing. People loved it. Everything happened in that house. We got married there, had our son Nick there, got our [burial] plot picked out there and OK’d with the county. This house we’re having built, I’m not pounding one nail.”
Rather, Kucha plans to spend his remaining years enjoying the world around him. “Since the fire, the community really has become important to me, and I’ve become important to them. I feel I am here to bring forth the love that exists, that is hidden. We’re part of an eternal consciousness. I call it enlightenment; it never dies.
“My job is to have a really good time and help people and heal and grow and create and give. I just want to disappear in that. I’ve been meditating since I’m 20. All the stuff I knew just came into focus, into being. It’s a huge thing. My wife called it a rebooting.”