Janice Porter | "self portrait"
Janice Porter | “self portrait” | 1970s? (I think Janice did this at RISD)

The odd way news travels today … a task to update a broken link to Janice’s website turned into the discovery that, nearly a year ago, she died. Breast cancer. She’s gone. And — as I look around my house — not gone. Strange how she has been and is with me every day, her work on my walls, never far out of view. Brave strokes, joy with a tinge of terror. A mother of lovingkindness.

1985. Howard Liebhaber (another dear one gone too soon) was teaching Janice and me typesetting on Mergenthaler Linotype machines at Blue Ink. He didn’t know much more than we did, so he spent most of his time napping while Janice and I struggled with Merg ABORT messages. We went dancing, talked over stovetop espressos at her Powderhorn Park apartment, son Jai playing nearby. She was always so far ahead. Immersed in life. Willing to love, however messy, while I was busy shoring up my defenses.

When Howard and I started Smart Set, she gave us “coffee cups laughing.” Twice, as it turned out, after a cleaning crew tossed the original in an overzealous sweep one night. I bawled. With typical off-handed ease, Janice said not to worry. A week later she turned up with a second drawing.

Janice Porter | "coffee cups laughing" | pencil on paper | 8 x 10 | 1985
Janice Porter | “coffee cups laughing” | pencil on paper | 8 x 10 | 1985

But her ease was not easy. After I moved to Boston, we exchanged a few letters: “I’m falling apart, without much free time to do so,” she once wrote. A year later: “Have thrown my hands up in the air about me, my life. … I’m dissembling and assembling me now continually. … I’m also letting my work life break open. … I’m looking at grad school and perhaps college-level teaching, something I think I could enjoy as I grow old…”

She and her family moved to Chico, California, where grad school and teaching at CSU pushed her art to the next place. I followed her exhibitions through her website, but otherwise we fell out of touch. She knew how much her work meant to me, but the ache in my gut, heart, throat says that I wouldn’t mind the chance to tell her one more time.

Janice Porter, 2001
Janice Porter, 2001

Re-reading her letters today, this line strikes me  — especially the question mark planted in the middle: “Interesting how we live with confusion but die (?) with some certainty.” I didn’t think much at the time about that question mark. But I’d like to think that, somewhere inside those parentheses, she’s alive.

* * *

some of the Janice Porter artwork and imagery that accompanies me

video of Janice Porter’s book “Glow”

“Mementos: The Stuff She Carried,” the most recent of many columns by Anthony Peyton Porter, Janice’s husband

Chico News & Reviews Arts Devo tribute to Janice