Author and artist Carolyn Mary Kleefeld awakens in her Big Sur home, breathes in the rarified air of an utterly wild place that refuses to be tamed, and wanders down to the big stone pool for a cool swim. She feels the freshwater against her skin, breathes in clear air, and notices a hawk on the wing. Soon, she will be ready to read, to write, to paint.
Kleefeld is a spirit unfettered, who breathes with the rhythms of the Big Sur landscape but who also feels a certain vitality in traveling, in creating a world context for her creative expression. COVID curtailed that, but once she could continue to travel, she did, with her beloved David Campagna, a man she describes as Italian, Portuguese, a Mediterranean lover, a wise and humble partner, and the great love of her life.
He took her back to England, to the place where she was born, to a mountain top in Greece, and other places of meaning for her all over the world, as they had, so many times before.
And then he died.
Kleefeld has written and published 25 books over the years, 15 of which, she said, have been translated into many languages. All of them are an exploration of the artistry and metaphysics of life and love, particularly her most recent book, “Immortal Seeds: Bearing Gold from the Abyss,” published in 2022, in tribute to Campagna.
“Immortal Seeds” is the story of my love for and expressed with David,” said Kleefeld, “told through poetry and paintings, particularly the last three and a half years, as he waged his own brand of warfare against the C word.”
The day Campagna learned in 2014 that he had what Kleefeld will call only “The C Word,” his response was to take her to a place in downtown Lost Angeles that breeds butterflies.
“He escorted me into a contained area where the butterflies were flying all about,” she said. “What a way to react to a terminal diagnosis. What a context in which to introduce The C Word to your beloved. His courage lifted him above fear to a place of concern for me.”
It was in this mindset that Kleefeld framed her own thoughts and feelings about a diagnosis that would end something in her life, as well as his, into poetic expression.
And so, she wrote, “I called to the greater will to transform my mind as I felt crushed against the rock of fear. Terrified I could lose my beloved… I don’t want to die with a broken heart. Our life is too infinite to be that mortal. I don’t want to let my beloved down. I want to be as strong as he… I want to dance with him until the end of time, until our next beginning.”
Much more than her mourning, Kleefeld’s book, a pairing of her painting and her poetry, a harkening to the likes of painter Marc Chagall and poet Barbara Mossberg, is a vivid portrayal of love and loss, an honesty of imagery and expression that reaches beyond courage to truth.
“I couldn’t be happier,” she wrote. “I’m dancing on the moonbeams of passion. Never have I known such a romantic creature and so much fun and humor. I’ve been graced by the gods to have these wondrous times with him. May it last as long as we wish it to.”
It didn’t last, not in the form in which the couple were enjoying their life together, as Campagna passed away in 2017, inviting Kleefeld, as he departed, to “be the butterfly of us.” And yet, for Kleefeld, their relationship continues. When the joy of rapture was met with the sorrow of loss, she buoyed herself by understanding that both what was and what would be were vital and true, and everlasting.
“I ended the book,” she said, “understanding our relationship as a never-ending story. The love goes on. My last poem is ‘My Eternal Husband’.”
“I lay there like a rag,” she wrote “and then I thought of you, my beloved, and how you would call me Babycakes and how your kiss always transformed me, and suddenly you appeared, enveloping me with a kiss and love… Yes, you have come back from that other world to embrace me and give me that kiss on the forehead… My eternal husband.”
The essence of a Spiritual Artist
Born in Catford, England to her mother, an artist for Vogue, Kleefeld wrote and illustrated her first book when she was 9 years old. Creative expression is in her blood, said. When asked her age, she was quick to confirm that the only thing she’ll reveal is that she celebrates every year on May 11, always with a great cake. Otherwise, she said, “I’m ageless, timeless, like life.”
Kleefeld actually grew up in Southern California, where she studied art and psychology at UCLA. By 1980, she had moved to her cliff-dwelling retreat in Big Sur, where creativity pulses through her like a life force, inspiring poetry and paintings, drawings and books, and an uplifting way of moving through her life on earth — and above and beyond.
“Carolyn understands the entire world as a great metaphysical structure involving the essential mysteries of time, space, matter, and fate. She paints to reveal these eternally mysterious truths. By capturing these universal wonders in a work of art, she invites us to grasp the essential paradox of life,” wrote the late Michael Zakian, Ph.D., in ‘Visions from Big Sur.’ “That is the great gift of her art.”
“Immortal Seeds: Bearing Gold from the Abyss,” is available at the Henry Miller Library, at the Phoenix Shop in Big Sur, and at River House Books in The Crossroads Carmel, as well as Luminata Books & Gifts in Monterey, among many of Kleefeld’s other works, as well as on Amazon.