Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Before Little Man, there was just a lonely man / woman -- lost between dimensions

I had the brilliant idea to write about the Little Man back in January, probably because I hadn’t done any more paintings of him since the previous August. I thought he and I were finished, and I had shipped him back to his owner thousands of miles away. For a while afterwards I had painted fruit. Small canvases of small baskets filled with peaches or pears, or dark plums spread across a cloth. Perhaps I was looking for the “fruits” of Little Man.
Interestingly, the studio space that had suddenly materialized for me shortly before his arrival was now gone, lost before the last few canvases were painted. And now, without the space to display him, all but two of the paintings were stashed face-to-face in another room, out of sight and out of mind. The two that were on display were propped high on a molding in the room where I now had my easel, and in order to see them one had to look up, make a special effort, as it were.
The fruit paintings became smaller as I went on. From 12”x16”, they were now only 5”x7”. I am not a miniaturist. I don’t know why I went so small, except that to say that I was retreating inside myself. Again. It wasn’t long after that before I put the tubes of oil away in a box and gave away the old aluminum easel. Just put it out on the street. It was my first easel, the one I had begun painting on in 1979 when I took up oils. Since then I had had several fancy wooden easels, the Greenwich easel, it was called. But that was when I was painting all the time and had the space.

I think at times it is necessary to say that’s it, I’m done. It allows you space for a while. When the easel is there all the time staring at you and you don’t feel like working, you feel guilty. You feel like you should be painting. But when it’s not there, you don’t have to think about it. If you feel emptied out, the last thing you need is the sense that it’s time to get going again. Emptiness is a necessary stage. To feel barren is to feel like the winter earth. Perhaps not as cold and hard, but silently waiting for the spring all the same.
When the calendar swung into the New Year I was momentarily roused from my apathy. January does that to some of us. A new beginning and all. I had been reading a friend’s blog on blogspot and realized I could start a completely new blog site and all for free. The story of how I came to paint the Little Man suddenly began to spring forth. After the first posting I began to work on a second. The second never got posted. When I realized that #2 would come first, that people would be reading the story not from the beginning, I quickly lost heart.
I don’t know why I’m such a stickler for chronology, for things in their proper order, but it’s probably because I went through decades of utter confusion when I was very young. When I came to the writing of my memoir, Girl Under Water, and one of my advisors suggested being more creative with the ordering of events, I would have none of it. I could only cope with the laying out of each thing as it happened. I think that must be one of the reasons I enjoy the act of painting and drawing so much; there is no skipping about. You start with the first line, the first brush stroke, and continue on from there.
Somehow though, the life of Little Man and his Story, have enabled me to move beyond myself. Beyond my own conceptions of what I am capable of.

And then the winter turned out to be not so barren as all that. I bought a new easel made of wood. It was smaller and less sturdy as my old ones used to be, but it was perfect for my current setup. Along with the easel, a brief couple of months in the old studio opened up, and I mined a few images from my long ago past, a door opening under water which came to me in a dream, and the face of a goddess that came to me in a vision. It’s not the amount of output or even the quality that matters sometimes. All that matter is that one gets ticking again. For me, it was going backward before I could go forward again.
Geometric Symbols
Yet inasmuch as I am going forward, I am going backward still. I did not know until I began putting the slides together for the video, what the video would look like or how it would be. I certainly did not think it would revolve so much around the geometric forms I had done, beginning with the checkered cloth he was waving around in front of the red curtain near the beginning. But revolve it did, which has caused me in the week following the completion of the video to look back at my earlier work and see how I was picking up in a way, from where I left off decades ago.
The terms that are used nowadays such as “emerging artists,” “mid-career artists,” etc. do not apply to me, perhaps because I never looked at my art as a career, but as a way of life. I have not shown much of my work, but I was a working artist during the ’80s, earning my living from commissions of architectural renderings and portraits. Not having shows or being known can be a blessing in the sense that no one is watching or paying any attention. There is nothing to live up to or fret about except my own perceptions and where they are leading or not leading me to. 
One of the most interesting results of the Little Man series was how at the end, the last two canvases, numbers 13 and 14, contained geometric symbols. Not only contained them, but the canvases and the figure of the Little Man, were literally taken over by the shapes. 

It fascinated me. I didn’t realize at the time that I was picking up a thread I had left off years ago, re-engaging with a thought-form, as it were. I used to complain that I had painted myself into a corner in my relationships, getting myself into situations where there seemed no way out, or no good way out. But I found myself literally doing that in actual paintings as well.
When I painted 13 and 14, I had no idea they would end up being the last of the series. But there was no place to go afterwards. He had come to the end of that particular journey, just as I too, had come to the end of something. Once geometric shapes become a factor, they start to take over. It had happened to me before. I don’t do well with abstractions. 

Once the humanness disappears, I get lost. 

And yet there is such a need to go beyond the “normal” world, to try and visualize something deeper, more penetrating. More of what living in a multi-dimensional world might look like. 


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