By Bri Barton
I never imagined I’d be making coloring books.
Several years ago my friend Rabbit got really sick – so sick they couldn’t work and their partner Van became primary caretaker. As a get-well present I gave Rabbit a series of small line drawings. Later that summer my grandfather died, beginning an eight-month period in which six loved ones passed away. In December, with four friends, mentors and family members gone and an uncle dying of cancer, I felt like I was drowning. As I grappled with grief, Rabbit and Van brought me into their warm home. At their tiny dining room table Rabbit placed in front of me the drawings I had given her. They had colored them in. The drawings were transformed: alive with colors that I could not have imagined. Each one became a surprising collaboration: my lines, her palette. Rabbit said they made them feel better. I said they brought them to life. In that instant I had a moment of clarity. I needed to make a coloring book about death.
Six weeks after this cold December day, and three days after the death of my uncle, Van died suddenly from an aneurism.
I had started the book two days before he died.
I finished it in nine months.
Everything Dies! A Coloring Book About Life! honors and celebrates soil biology and decomposition, funeral rites from around the world, the legacies of anti-oppression leaders and the complexities of grief and loss. The coloring books are 100 pages of imagery, prose and poetry that challenge the silence of mainstream death culture, and encourage conversation and meditation on mortality.
This project was my own form of grieving and healing, and as a way for me to better understand death. A rich valuing of life can only come about when we face death in all its complexities. And then it became bigger than me. I made something that has had a direct, positive impact on how people relate to death and dying. I am honored that my healing process has become a part of the healing processes of others.
Bri Barton is an artist, activist, witch, gardener and creator of Everybody Colors. Bri wrote and illustrated Everything Dies! A Coloring Book About Life! She uses paint, ink, shadows, and light to create art that is collaborative, participatory, and informative. Her work elevates and embodies racial and environmental justice, anti-imperial history, earth worship and defiant celebrations of life.
Bri graduated Valedictorian from Moore College of Art in 2011 where she double-majored in Fine Art and Curatorial Studies. Bri is also co-spearhead of the multi-disciplinary painting troupe, ROMPUS, co-art director for Beardfest, board member of the Experimental Farm Network, and a member of Soil Generation.
Bri is working on her second coloring book!