I’ve become a cliche reclusive. I live up the long hill past two no trespassing signs. anything I do is predictable, accountable to artistic temperament. This is irritating. My creative binges, my altered states, inspired even, are mere fugue states, embarrassing, best isolated. I agree. The paintings are more welcome out in the world and welcome to it.
I became reclusive when i came back from the deep south. I remember getting on a subway in Toronto and becoming aware that I must now modify my curiosity, my approach and my approachability in the face of indifferent Canadian reserve, which I saw now as smug cowardice.
My friend David said that I paint lovingly, that I am a loving painter. I don’t feel very loving by the time I carve out the freedom of concentration to paint. I feel spoiled and selfish behind the trespassing signs in the lane.
The young lad built a tiny house chic studio. I follow the sun and the shade around the porch of it.
This morning the sky is white and promises heat. I’m living atop a hill so the sky is big. In a pine tower so to speak.
I keep happy most days, fortunate , aware that being among people is a usual necessity, even a pleasure for most people.
People draw my attention away from my work, for in a way, people do not exist while i am working. I don’t give a rat’s rosy red right ventricle for my email and facebook is like, totally grade six. I pursue my own irrelevance.
I weary of rumination after company. It takes up time going over what was said. I don’t have a lot of visitors, it takes fortitude to climb the hill.
The young lad is a social beast. He has a clumsy eagerness for companionship that pinches at my heart. It makes me fear for his eagerness. It comforts me also to know that he will always go to people. It takes a kind of stamina i do not own. I have another kind of stamina.
When I am alone, I think sometimes of what I might say. That I do so indicates to me a lack of acceptance of solitude, an imagination avid for company, but I do wonder what to paint.The same old thing? Something new? Who cares?
My friend Bill the last time we spoke said that the smartest thing I ever said was “I make numinous objects for rich people.” Oh I can be clever.
Oh the fervent radio, the freshly informed and duly inflated host and his guests on and on about dissent and the gentrification of dissent, the gentrification of prostitution( now sex work) of music, of anything that’ll bear the freight of boredom in its search for notional authenticity.
Still life painting took a radio beating this morning I fear. The panelists agreed that painting was long ago cleansed of its weakness for painting,(or for being) bourgeois decorative trappings and here i sat eyeing a bowl of underappreciated and unseasonal monsanto fruit on a guilty table.
I gathered I am to paint, to illustrate talking points, the buzz memes, of the politically conscious bourgeois dining table. If not the fruit bowl. Paint the misery they decried. There lies relevance. I am to shed light on the losers.
Ah perhaps I blew my dissident wad long ago, in another country. The message heavy painting. A signature in each line and stroke. These drove me to Thigh-master mountain.
I read…”The idea that the painting should make the educated expert eye feel naive, and should educate the naive And that the process should be pleasing.”
I read… everything in sight, and note in an old Malraux about “The subordination of the artist to a romantic or sentimental spectacle, often rooted In history”. He talks of how painting “Found its way back to poetry by ceasing to illustrate the poetic whims of historians and refusing to cater to those of an indifferent public by creating its own in paintings that do not derive their poetry from what they present, but make use of what they represent to focus their specific poetry.” Manet, Cezanne, Renoir, that crowd .
It occurred to me that then the artist himself, herself, becomes the romantic, sentimental spectacle, rooted in history.
I read Anita Brookner who says “I was not even pleased with myself for showing a modicum of moral courage, for moral cowardice would have served me better. It would also have been more welcome in the circumstances, whatever the circumstances turned out to be. It was my isolation that had so unwisely spoken, when isolation is never a good card to play.”
I was sick and tired of commentary for sale or rent. Curating was perhaps an art but it was not the art.
The slow accumulation of marks, most of them corrections, evidence gathered. the tremor of the hand and the losing of the tremor over the days.. ppalmyra, the twin towers,which did I mourn most? What good could i say? What favourite brush?. Which did I mourn more?
There’s plenty to do.
I am painting pictures from photographs I took in the back yard in Louisiana. I’m trying to make sense of unfamiliar, unnamed vegetation, complicated in drawing.
I’m following contours with my eyes and running them through the replication or interpretation processes I have running to my hand a year later. memory comes into it but not so much particular memory as general, not so much of the back garden as of the light falling on the city around it the spring days.Not hot yet, not hot still.
I paint from holiday photographs but not to photographic effect. Things people said go off like fireworks in my head. I’m using thin paint, taking off more paint than I leave.
It was a yellow ocher light so I paint on a yellow ochre ground, in thin layers, towelling off half the paint I brushed on with new Japanese brushes.
I’ve always been pretty systematic in my approach to a painting. I always had representational visions to depict but as if from a dream. That was my little sensation, that was statement enough to get me going.
I had no developed self to speak of when I began to paint. Paint was always too expensive to just throw around. I became planned and deliberate.
I choose subject matter for a sense of imperative in my belly. I often wished later I’d been a little choosier, had noticed all the details, had foreseen all the Joe work. at some time in the course of painting the thing I would understand why I had chosen the subject matter, I’d realise some private subconscious symbolism and hope it had lent intensity. I’d recognise some pattern. I’d have accessed memory and understood a little better. That was the payoff. I lacked gravity but could manage nostalgia rather well. It was just something temporary i loved.
I had a new studio and home, a sort of new beginning. I severed most daily connections to my past. The setting was bucolic. I was painting a southern garden.
Out in the studio here carpentry continues, beautifully too; the lads are building a set of stairs to the loft, a complex and nasty last task. Before i sulk totally into my tent of superior moral virtues. Meanwhile the fairly pleasant garden summer chores have been happily endless for me.
All the best pleasures in life are private and the worst things I’d rather forget than write down. The terrain is hometown rural. On a really good day the lad will tether the old canoe up on the half-ton and we’ll crank up and hit the back roads. Put in someplace along the river, paddle up and drift back down. You rarely see a soul.
In heat it feels like the Nile, the iris in spring gliding by and later on in the summer the water lilies, simple and yellow or lotus complex and white, compact or sprawling open in warm water. The dragonflies with their cartoon curiosity in helicopter flight, whirring like paper, clicking like opening fans. The little origami water bugs and spiders. The paper thin tissue of a perfect summer day.
I like the heat more than he does. He tends to mild nausea and cold compresses. But I will fire up the wood stove at home on a gray cool day in July just to take off the chill.
We listen to top forty country on the radio and heartily praise the few good tunes that get through to us. He knows all the words and when to sing them ironically. I can grow sentimental if deftly manipulated. I stare out the window and occasionally glance in the mirror checking out my sex appeal.
After a little time on up river we’ll drift back to the landing; today he swam along behind me while i paddled. We loaded up and drove to a high point where he could get a clear signal across the evening blue receding hills, the dirt road like a roll of ribbon tossed out behind us, and make a few calls.
We visited a friend, recently a widower and we walked around the garden. This friend and I know similar terrain, grief, and I represent to him, I know, a crude survival of suicidal bereavement, in my present almost obscene thriving. As I believe his wife, who I loved too, would have me, gently and consistently remind him. And I should nag at him in her voice a bit too, about drink, or about flying off the handle at idiots, though god knows neither one of us can talk. Not with a straight face about that.
He keeps finding things he had no idea she had planted. Nobody to talk to at night. Try to get him painting something sensible. “Grander the scale the better with him,”she’d say, “He was a goddam house painter for years after all.”
I can ask him things like whether he is aware of missing the intensity of an emergency of love, still doing things as she would have them done, whether he misses having his priorities clarified by real emergency. “I used to lay and listen to her breathing,”he said “That was my function for two years.”
I recall the last few days of words from a lost friend .
“I always kept my hat in the right hand pocket of my coat.”
“Not another summer…”
“You’ll fall in love again within a few years.”
One thought on “Watching Paint Dry”
Thanks for sending this, Rocky. I think of you now and then and wonder what you’re up to, noticeably absent from social media as you are. I resonated with “at some time in the course of painting the thing i would understand why i had chosen the subject matter, id realise some private subconscious symbolism and hope it had lent intensity. Id recognise some pattern.” It is similar with how I remember my reckoning in the course of writing a song.
Ta for now, Laura