Thursday, September 17, 2009

2. Little Man Speaks

Stories. I think I’ve always painted stories. The first time I painted something to any acclaim was when I was in fifth grade and made a picture at school of a tree and a rock and flowers and grass and the sun shining brightly. They all had faces. They were all communicating with one another—flirting would be more like it. The flowers were smiling at the tree while the rock looked on jealously as he wanted the flowers to look at him, and the sun looked out at the viewer and winked.

Pictures have always spoken to me, taking me inside them, making me part of their world. I’m sure this is why I have no interest in much of abstract art other than an appreciation for form and color. I enjoy statements as much as the next person I suppose, but I soon move on. I’m certain this is because I need the picture to involve me somehow. To take me somewhere. To allow me to feel more than an indirect appreciation for artistry and execution. I want to experience the life of a painting. I want the artist to engage me.

I am easily engaged. I think it is because everything speaks to me. The fancy name for it is anthropomorphism, assigning human characteristics to non-humans and objects. I think this quality is attributed more to primitive peoples and children, but I for one have never outgrown it, nor would I wish to. One of the most important qualities anyone can have is relatedness. Relating to one’s surroundings, relating to others, relating to oneself. I have been accused of living in my own world, but what artist or writer hasn’t? Obviously I relate to the outer world as well, or I wouldn’t be posting blogs….

As Stuart Wilde says, “everything emits a feeling.” We know now that everything is energy, everything is vibration—even thoughts. To have one’s feeling centers open is to be able to feel, sense, all that you come in contact with.

So, back to the Little Man. How I became involved with him is also the story of how I came to take up painting in oil again after a lapse of many, many years. It began with a college reunion. With being middle-aged and suddenly your classmates from college start to die off. It’s your youth evaporating in flames. Even though you know theoretically that you haven’t been exactly young for quite some time, it doesn’t matter when you’re around those you were young with. For they hold the memories of you at eighteen and nineteen, just as you hold it for them, and as long as they are around you will be remembered when you were on that precious cusp of adulthood.

I was actually not in touch with any of my former college classmates at Carnegie-Mellon. I had only gone for two years before leaving to study in London, and hadn’t been in touch with anyone since the 1970s. But now there was a movement afoot among those who were still in contact with each other, to find out who else was still alive and where were they? I was contacted. I was easy to find because I had posted a website the year before. And along with the sudden and unexpected flurry of communiqués of my former classmates from forty years ago, was an email from an upper-classman who happened to love art and was disappointed to hear that I had given up painting. Never mind that I explained I had taken up writing and loved writing and had, just had to write a memoir. He still said he was sad.

Well, as I said earlier, I am easily engaged. Tell me enough times how sorry you are that I no longer paint, and I’ll paint again! The only trouble was, I didn’t know what to paint. Just because I no longer painted in oils didn’t mean that I had totally given up sketching. I also still did watercolors, even if only sporadically. But oils are different. They require far more of a commitment. An oil painting is serious. Aside for the outlay of money in supplies, it’s a statement of how you see yourself as an artist. I thought I had put it all behind me.

So I wrote back to my friend, asking him if he had any ideas on what I should paint? The lapse over many years had caused that part of my imagination to fall asleep. In the old days, the days when I worked feverishly to bring to life the thoughts and ideas consuming me, subject matter tumbled out of my brain almost faster than I could keep up with it. One image led to another, and another after that, because the images responded to each other. If one canvas presented a question, the next canvas would try to come up with an answer. And so on it went. But as I said, those days were long gone.

He started sending me pictures. Photos of the view from his terrace. Photos of objects around his house. This was actually an excellent idea, because at that point I had lived in the same apartment, the same neighborhood for fifteen years and had long ago stopped finding either one fascinating. Which is another way of saying that my surroundings did not inspire me. I had stopped seeing them.

Among the photos he sent were those of the wooden figure he called Little Man. His expression was carved in wood, yet it didn’t seem set, it seemed to change according to the light, to the angle of vision. And right away I knew that I could paint him. It was like he was calling out to me. Like I had to paint him.

I said to my friend,
“Can I borrow your Little Man?”

No comments:

Post a Comment