I have to say this in a way that people can understand. Sometimes the water is like a page and the koi move across it and their motion is writing. Their patterns are words. Their beauty is a message. And the watcher is the one who receives it. And if you marvel, you are the one who heeds it.
Art Quote du Jour
A poet must work on the material which makes most demands on him, or he will arrive at a false position. One is always learning, and it probably takes a lifetime to know what one is born to write, but at least its characteristics recur, and one recognizes what belongs to one’s own ground. — Vernon Watkins (1906-1967)
I remember painting this picture of clover in a cheap factory-made blue and white bowl. It’s oil on canvas glued to a masonite panel. I had gathered some clover flowers and set them on some concrete steps maybe twenty years ago …? The light cast strong shadows that changed quickly and I painted this sketchy image very rapidly. It has hung around in my thoughts over the years as a particular (peculiar) favorite and I don’t know why.
It’s not an obviously pretty image. In fact, it’s the kind of picture that seems to require an explanation. It is not finished, and yet I can think of absolutely nothing I would do to change it. The white streak on the left, otherwise incomprehensible, is a patch of light that reflected off the back of the step above where the flowers were sitting.
If any picture I painted were a self-portrait, I think it is this one. If anyone wished to understand me, well here I am.
Ever water and light, ever green and pink
You probably never would have guessed, but even I cannot paint night and day. No! It’s true. (Well, I can understand you’re incredulous.)
Anyway, sometimes I must resort to raiding my storage boxes for old works so that I can keep writing a painting blog. Thank goodness, I squirreled away lots of pictures for a rainy day. Well, not that it’s raining. Actually we’re having perfect pre-autumn weather in the Washington, DC, region. I digress.
As I was saying, this is an old painting. Don’t know when I painted it. It’s that old. (Not me, it.) I set some green stuff into a jar, set the jar on a yellow pot holder and the pot holder was already setting on a pink cloth. I started painting. Painted this.
Afterwards it seemed to me like a metaphor for creating a whole little world in a jar. Water, held in glass, green things growing, light and air, and more light. My little jar of the microcosmos. And here’s a virtue of painting. The thought is still there.
When trees are koi, can koi be trees?
opening doors of leaves
I decided rather boldly what I’m not sure anyone can decide: that I would paint the landscapes as dreams, that I would dream them, that they would be narratives and the stuff in them would have symbolic meaning, not that I would assign meaning to anything, just that it would write itself there as the mind writes narrative in dreams when each thing achingly means deep something. It’s like saying that everything would come alive – just would – and its texture be like life, breathing in rhythm wth actual breath, and the respirable air would fill the lungs with joy of reality. How unreal dreams are (my painting more like that reality) yet how lived-in-each-moment truthful they are.
The first painting is a wall of leaves. A road at the bottom curves somewhere but the plants don’t offer any path to their interior. A dream about opacity of dreaming. A dream about having arrived at the dreamscape and finding it impenetrable. The first is a door that must be opened.
The shapes of the trees are round, and light pours across them like water over a surface. The river of air above just edges into view where all is leaf. The warm flow of sun warmed color and the cool radiance of pure liquid light glancing off and flowing into the brain where it makes thoughts bracing in cool waves of refreshment amid the well baking heat. And cicada buzz sharpens colors, nothing to tell you the insects are there except what buzz emerges as raw color. Does the buzz change light’s velocity? Do they recolor the land with savage sound/music?
The summer day itself is like a dream, bright, enchanting, beguiling, floating, vibrating summer day of endless summer day that goes too swiftly and soon fragments into scatters.
the pictures where they live
When I painted this back in August of 2002 my secret bunker studio was “brand new” (new to me). Had just moved in and the space was very open and empty. Zen like. Just the thought of it rekindles a sense of mysterious possibilities.
The space has seen many transformations since that early time. I have done a lot of work, made a bunch of paintings. And it’s getting crowded in there — all those fish and a few other dreams besides.
The little place has its magic, that’s for sure. Even if it lacked its modern day security system it would still be a charmer.
I love my studio. I really do. But nonetheless, I could use a bigger place.
This property would be nice. I like the light a lot. And it’s got nice architecture. But I don’t want any movie stars bothering me while I’m working. I’ll have to make sure I post a sign, “please, no movie stars.”
My kid, though, has been less burdened by architecture than me. Was a time when she could carry her whole studio in her arms. And I have to hand it to her, her method has had great utility.
Draw any time, anywhere. Be free as a bird. Let the world be your studio.
When dreaming while awake, how grand not to sleep
The first one was very murky and mysterious. (I have to go back to that mystery pond sometime just for joy.)
Then came this one with plump fishes.
This one had graceful Olympic swimmers who leave ripples in their wake.
The fourth large koi drawing has determined divers at its center, especially one very cheeky little orange fishy.
And this most recent one has crazy wild swimmers in a pond that’s dark like an evening sky.
I just wish I had a bit more wall space. You can be sure this pond would get really big. I could give up sleeping when it’s possible to dream this much wide awake.
My fish need a bigger pond
Last week I began another koi drawing. I do these drawings as same-size studies for paintings, as forms of exploration, as ends-in-themselves, and I do them because it’s fun. But my little secret bunker studio is too small to accomodate my growing koi pond of imagination. Two of the large drawings are in storage, one pinned on top of the other. The third is hanging high on the wall so I can use it as a reference for a painting in progress, and the newest koi drawing occupies the only available wall space remaining.
One of these days I’m going to exhibit these guys together in one — very large — room. And it will be a challenge getting them framed since drawings go under glass. It’s going to be one big sheet of special glass to cover drawings that are 40ish or 50ish inches high and 60 inches wide. And though the glass used to frame pictures is designed to cut down on glare, it’s probably impossible to have a sheet of glass that size that doesn’t reflect back some of the light to the spectator. So the drawing in exhibit will never have quite the same punch as the drawings have when they are simply pinned to the wall. The artist’s private delight.
I have wondered about whether crayon on paper was such a good choice given these difficulties. But the beauty of the medium is just too wonderful to forego. Moreover, these crayon drawings reproduce remarkably well, perhaps better than any other medium I’ve ever used. And the fun quotient is inestimable. I love to draw anyway, but scribbling with crayons evokes deep stored joys going back to childhood and even stretching back through archetypal evolution to the dim beginnings of human existence. Through these drawings I tap my inner cave-person and do something like my own Lascaux cave painting act.
And I discovered that I like my inner cave-person.