April 5, 2008

The Fine Line in Sleeping Standing Up

I made a painting of a man in New York some years ago. His name was Dexter, and he had an expressive face and an unusual ability to remain standing while sleeping. Although I liked how I painted him I was never satisfied by the back round. After moving to South Carolina I painted this back round several times over and was still never satisfied. To settle my frustration, I finally took a utility knife and carved his body out of the canvas and pinned it to my studio wall so that I would no longer be distracted by the failure of the surrounding paint. I then constructed a new canvas and painted him anew onto an entirely different back round - one replete with the angles and textures on the side of a barn at one of the many abandoned homesteads around South Carolina.
Later that afternoon, a friend of mine dropped by the studio and asked what I intended to do with the large cut out of the man pinned to my wall. “Discard it I suppose,” was my somewhat fatalistic reply. Gwen, my friend, wouldn’t have it. “But I really like his demeanor...the expression on his face has such pathos. Couldn’t you make it into a collage?” She asked. I had never made a collage with a piece of a painting before and wasn’t certain that it would work but I told Gwen that I would reserve this portrait and upper torso until I figured out how to use it.
I did eventually use the painting fragment in a large collage - surrounding the figure with red lines, gold leaf and abstractly painted geometric shapes. These embellishments were derived from the Russian icons I had seen when I went on a memorable trip to visit my relatives in Ukraine. The finished collage, which I named “Icon,” served me well. “ Icon” won a significant monetary award which came just in time for me - for two weeks after the award it was discovered that I had breast cancer and as a consequence had to take a leave from my teaching and my studio. There were two ways that one could understand this situation - that my award might be eaten up by illness and therefore diminished, or, that Dexter as “Icon” was the manna from heaven that arrived at the precise moment of need. I chose the latter understanding, gratitude being healthier than despair. I would have to extend that gratitude to good friends, husband, surgeon and radiation oncologist as well.

But what of that other painting? I continued to repaint the back round until I could do no more. The final addition was a row of blue dots at the base inspired by some roadside flowers. The painting was hung in one of my galleries, was returned to me, then was hung in another gallery and was returned to me. Unfortunately this painting, which I aptly entitled “Sleeping Standing Up,” suffered an accident which left a hair line crack in the paint on the upper right corner. It is not very noticeable but this means that I will never be able to sell it through a gallery. So now what? I had considered selling it to anyone who might be willing to pay for material costs and transport. Otherwise, he might end up in a cut and paste yet again. He probably will.

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