January 22, 2009

Winter Painting

It has been an unusual winter this past week. South Carolina saw snow. It was just a few inches in the north and only a dusting here in the midlands but it enough to cause delayed openings and school cancellations. The closing of infrastructures seemed nonsensical to this New Jersey lady, until I remembered how unprepared the south is for even a little bit of snow. Better safe than sorry.
The other happy albeit unusual event, was, of course, the inauguration of our new president. It was both a great joy and a great relief to finally have someone I actually voted for in office again, and someone I can actually relate to with regard to his pragmatism and his respect for science and education. For the last eight years, I had the distinct feeling of having to hold my breath while the country ran amok. Finally, with the swearing in of President Obama, I could exhale and at least hope for better times a few years down the road.
A fellow artist and I celebrated in a quiet way. We watched the inauguration, then settled down to paint a still life. The following day we watched the Marx Brothers cavort around in the film Duck Soup. This zany political satire of governments, wars, and political ineptitude served as a catharsis of the inanities we have had to put up with.
Putting the past behind us via the Marx Brothers, my friend and I painted a second still life. These simple acts, painting and watching a film on two quiet afternoons seem so unimportant in the grander scheme of things, but they were small commitments to hope for both of us. My friend is just getting started as an artist again after a ten-year hiatus spent caring for an aging mother. I have only one gallery left which doesn’t carry my mosaics, works on paper, or mid-range to larger paintings with bold themes - it seems the only thing the local commercial market will bear these days is tiny paintings of detailed views of rural South Carolina. (Not that I don’t like doing these from time to time. I just would like to do other things as well) We were both making a leap of faith these days - painting things that it is not certain that anyone will want. It is amazing what not having a market can do for artistic freedom!
Painting a still life is a humbling experience. It is more difficult than working from photographs and painting from imagination. The thing itself is there, calling the artist’s attention to details and colors which shift during the course of the day as the window light changes. One of the most recent still life paintings I just finished had to be painted at 4:00 in the afternoon every day for the fleeting moments when the light made a triangle in the composition and highlighted the copper underneath the tin on the middle-eastern pitcher. The objects I have been painting feature the crafts of other people - things that are one-of-a-kind and made by hand. They are paintings of an artist paying homage to artists. The pitcher in this painting was made by a nineteenth century Persian craftsman. Holding the object in my hands I can feel the dents of wear and see the large copper nails that the object was beaten together with. Lowly object that it was, the maker still gave it a regal bearing, with its spout that is much longer than it has to be so that water poured from it creates a beautiful arch. The small gray object in the painting next to the pitcher is a porcelain vase hand built by the potter Jeri Burdick - my favorite South Carolina Potter. No, maybe one of my favorite potters, period. I like the way the vase is pinched into being - every mark the touch of a talented hand. I also like that the vase was fired in a wood fired kiln, the ashes making a beautiful running glaze. These are the objects of my gray painting - gray for winter and gray for the blank slate upon which new plans can be written.

1 comment:

harriett said...

Ahh, Janet! Your painting is lovelier than the object itelf!