During the late eighties I took a figure painting class with an artist whose work I found interesting, Ken Marlow. I already possessed then my own ways of painting, but I wanted to learn how Ken painted. Granted the public character of a class would reveal only certain aspects of his approach. Still, his class was there to take, and so I signed up. He was a wonderful teacher, and had I been looking for instruction I couldn’t have recommended anyone better. But as it happens, I had arrived merely to satisfy curiosity.
In the course of things, we did a nude figure. Mine was painted on the small canvas above. I cannot remember what it looked like or even whether it was a man or a woman. At some stage Ken came round and offered suggestions, and he also offered to make some corrections himself to which I acceded. Afterwards, though, the picture bothered me. I can’t remember exactly why, but it had something to do with his having changed it. It had stopped being my picture at that juncture.
Had I been more mature … hmm… perhaps I would have kept it as a souvenir — after all Ken’s paintings command hefty prices now. But I wasn’t interested in a souvenir. I had gone there with curiosity only and persisted in curiosity only. So at some later date, I decided to reuse the canvas, and I painted this bird’s nest over it.
Now, maturer still … er … I’m glad I painted over the Me/Marlow life study. I love this bird’s nest. It is a testament to my other “teacher” of the time, Vincent Van Gogh. As you’re probably aware, Van Gogh painted a series of bird’s nests early in his career during that period when his pictures were dark and overtly “Dutch.”
When I painted this still life, I felt so much as though I was apeing Van Gogh that I was a little uneasy about it. However, seeing it now I realize how thoroughly it was and is mine. The round white stool was a regular bit of my life’s furniture, evocative of such personal memories. The way that the bird’s nest sits on it, laying on a cloth (actually a piece of artist’s linen) is so much a gesture of presenting the nest — and animals and wildlife were a big deal in my formative childhood experience.
That it covers over a different picture, one with interesting credentials, also fits in with the painting’s gesture. I asserted my own life’s very different trajectory. This painting was raw and unstudied — more a rough and rude Van Gogh idea than a smooth salon-inspired idea of art out of which Marlow’s visual sensibilities evolved.
Different strokes for different folks. I realize the wisdom of that saying now more than ever. The whole point of making pictures is to create something individual. How else can one accomplish this except through the individuality of the self?
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[Top of the post: A Bird’s Nest, by Aletha Kuschan, oil on canvas, c. 1988]