Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Art Has Always Saved Me

I bought new watercolour brushes for the first time since I was in Windsor, England in 1987. I didn't look at the price tag and shocked myself when the 5 brushes I bought came to $29.95. Nothing really cost-wise, had they been red sables, which I have always preferred, they would have easily cost $60.00 to $70.00 dollars. The last brushes I bought had been at Boots on the High Street, along with some really neat watercolour pens and pots of paints. The day after I bought them, I rose early and walked to a bench lining the Long Walk and proceeded to paint a picture of another park bench close by.

Watercolours have been a staple art supply in my house since early childhood. My father was the real driving force in my learning to draw and paint. Dad would pack me up in the old Chevy Bel Aire and away we would drive to the deYoung Museum or the Palace of Fine Art. I would be enthralled at the fact that anyone could take paints and brushes and create a Renoir or Monet. Sometimes I would ask my Dad to pick me up and hold me so that I could look (but don't touch) closer at a painting. It was so amazing to see the brush strokes, proving to me that, yes, someone actually painted the picture. Up close, you could sometimes see the colours blending...just a minute line a hair's breadth...but enough to capture the eye. I still remember seeing a stroke like that in a Rembrandt painting where the crismon turned to orange...a faint trace of yellow...just a scratch of it peering through. You wouldn't have seen it if you were standing at normal viewing range, but the arms of my father made it possible.

From that time on, I have painted on sidewalks, walls, and rocks. I was disappointed as the pigments faded in the sun and bled off into the gutters in the rain. Later on, in high school, I took watercolours my sophomore year. My grandmother bought me a box of Binney & Smith artist's colours in a white plastic case. I remember sitting in the freezing classroom, listening to the instructor whose name I can't remember, droning on about how you have to see with your own eyes...not what people expect you to see. It was a passion...something to be felt...like when Renee Farnsworth had a leaf bug land on her shoulder in the middle of an outdoor painting class. I was absolutely fascinated at the green wings it had...so much like a leaf and the tiny beady blue eyes peering up helplessly as I grabbed it before she, still screaming, squashed it. I had to paint it. The painting never was displayed it school...and has long since disappeared in the many moves I've made throughout the years.

After my graduation from high school, I again found myself in art classes at the local technical college. Photographic developers, inks, printing inks, and the pungent scent of solvents came whaffing through the lower bowels of the college, blending with the smell of coffee, cinnamon buns and bacon from the cafeteria next door. I fell in love there...or lust...I'm not completely sure which... with a fellow student...all unreciprocated unfortunately...over coffee and discussions of art history, Gutenburg and who had the best prices in town for art supplies. I was in heaven in those classes until I had to take the rest of my core classes to graduate. Art was everything...health, P.E. and algebra seemed dull and hardly worth the effort.

On the walks home, I began to see angles, shapes, shades and nuances in the world around me. Provo in those days had huge horse chestnut and maple trees in front of the spooky, old BYU Academy building. The textures of the rain-soaked, ancient grey sidewalks, littered with wet autumn leaves in every conceivable shade of orange, red, brown and yellows plastered to it was gorgeous. I wondered how anyone could miss this...didn't they see when they walked down the street? Rich brown horse chestnuts rained from the denuded branches, occasionally hitting you in the head as the crows sat and laughed.

Old farm houses and fields took on a whole new meaning. Art became a secret language, one that my father had successfully transmitted to me as a child. It was my own world. The old train tracks up Provo Canyon could become beautful, spooky and sensuous all depending on the light during different seasons and time of day.

When I divorced my first husband in 1987 and went back to England, it was like coming home in many different respects. I had began to recapture myself with watercolours, pens and pencils. Poetry began to mingle more steadly with the art work...like a filling in a pie or pastry. I couldn't live without the colours or words painting something I had seen and had to share or capture in my mind.

Enter Jan McIntyre when I returned to the states. A sculptor, painter, and artist extraordinare, we were distant cousins who became close friends instantly one evening in a bar gathering of musicians. That group was something I will always treasure, even though we have gone our separate ways and Janny has long since passed. The art carried me through the victory of my first gallery showing of watercolors and wood burned items. It carried me past the pain of a failed marriage and into a new life. It held me together through a doomed relationship with a musician that was cursed from the start. Love or lust (definitely both! Oh, yes.), I am not quite sure. Love and lust for the creative life was a definite addiction...and like all junkies, I had to have more.

And then I met Tony in 1992. Tony was earthy, intelligent, well-read, foul mouthed, and the most beautiful man I had ever met...and he wanted me. He was the high school girl's dream. We became lovers within a month and never left each other's side for more than a couple days at a time. He encouraged me to paint, draw, and bought me a 35mm camera outfit. We explored eras; he was in love with the geometrics of art deco and I with the flowing sensuality of art nouveau.

Through the years I lived in arts and crafts stores; always on the search for some technique book, ink, medium or glue. He would stand there sometimes at the end of an aisle, hands on hips, head tilted, "Are you ready yet?" His patience was more immeasurable than he would ever let on or perhaps, realize. He was my muse and pushed me forward to experiment with using different mediums.

I began taking photo copies and painting them, using them in collages and putting them into journals. Beads and glass, their fine pure colours, intrigued me. Seed beads became another way of expressing myself through jewelry and then peyote stitch. Spirit bottles and loomed murals began to fill the walls. I bought beads and hoarded them, amassing some several hundred pounds, up until this summer when everything came to a horrible, sudden stop. Tony died on a beautiful, cloudless Sunday afternoon.

The last few months have been rain soaked. I have viewed the world through eyes every bit as unclear as rain washing down glass. Isolation and intolerable grief, along with with an incredibly acute loneliness has shut me off from the world and myself. I began searching through closets in my mind, frantically throwing open doors in dark hallways trying to find a reason for this or some momentary peace. My pens dried up with the heat and disuse and my beading loom covered itself in a fine veil of dust. The vintage mahogany dining room table I had claimed as my art center lay silent and cluttered with ideas and projects now completely gone by the wayside...until last Sunday.

Curiosity got the better of me. I found a small piece of watercolour canvas I had preped with Gesso last spring. It was gritty and I liked the way it felt under my fingers. In the buffet behind the table are my paints, pastels, and other implements. I pulled out a pallette, the old Binney & Smith box of colours and a few brushes from the cat jar. Armed with a glass of water and a rag, I began to paint for the first time in months. I had too much water on the canvas, and the human heart that I had painted began to bleed down the canvas in a happy accident, pooling at the bottom. I bled off the excess water and decided that it was perfect the way it was. Let it dry and rework it in a couple of days to get down the details.

Slowly, I am breaking free of the sorrow. Slowly, once again reaching for who I was and now am through watercolours and brush strokes.