Yesterday my friend Perla came to Monte Vista (from Alamosa) to see the eye doc who is two blocks away from my house. We spent three hours talking. It was great. She’s an artist and a thinking person so the conversation was wonderful, wonderful, wonderful and even included a little time spent in my frowzy studio where I introduced her to lapis lazuli ultramarine. She is extremely talented and skillful in a wide, wide, wide variety of things, so I was surprised when I could show her something new. She understood totally when I explained that the paint is like a person to me, a person who wants to help me paint. She laughed, but she got it. I told her about my dream of owning lapis ultramarine with lapis from Afghanistan, and that I’d tried to buy some with my Christmas present money, but the upheaval in Afghanistan meant no one had it. “Don’t feel bad,” I said, “but all I could get is lapis ultramarine with lapis from Argentina.” She’s from Buenos Aires.
That’s when we went to my studio so I could show her the paint. She looked at the painting that’s on my easel drying, the painting of the storm — which she loved — and at the one that’s in progress. “That’s hard. I couldn’t do it.”
“I don’t know yet if I can,” I said. I was, at the time, showing her the lapis ultramarine by putting it on the canvas with my finger. She compared it to indigo which she’d seen growing — and which dye she had used — at her recent experience as an artist in residence at a farm in Arkansas, an experience she’d loved and that had given her great stories and much needed renewal. Jeans are died Indigo. It’s a great blue and in medieval times was used to replace lapis ultramarine for walls and manuscripts. Lapis ultramarine which was expensive and hard to get. There was even a FALSE Indigo, or woad Indigo, that came from a nasty plant that made the ground useless for anything else, it depleted the soil so completely and so rapidly. Still, it’s pretty amazing. Here’s a great explanation and visualization of the difference between real Indigo and Woad. I didn’t argue or “clarify.” There’s no way to know what another person sees when they look at a color AND we look for familiar shades and patterns all the time. The chart below is excellent. The top blue is synthetic ultramarine. They are all great blues. The featured photo of my work in progress is not color true because the underlying ground is not white, but this chart is.
The subject of representational vs. abstract art came up and Perla has always let me know what she wants me to do. I accept that — a push from a knowledgeable person can be helpful in defining direction and everyone’s free to reject it. But knowing her and her work, I listen. Yesterday she said, “You’re obsessed with reality.” That’s true. As a person who lives largely in my head, reality is an important question for me. I’m not a subjectivist; I believe there is an objective reality and that is why I love nature so much. It is what it is whether I recognize it or. not. I WANT to. But as we talked I realized that I don’t see a difference in my work between the stuff I do that’s representational and that which isn’t completely representational. Wanting a tree to look like a tree isn’t, to me, a bad goal because a living thing is only static until you start engaging with it. I quickly find there is more to it than what I recognize as a tree. I realized that I don’t think most of my “realistic” paintings are realistic.
We discussed another artist’s paintings — which are really beautiful nature paintings — and she said, “I don’t like them. Every little thing,” and she made as if she were painting with a tiny brush on a wall. I think his work is lovely, but not exactly what I would paint (obviously). I proclaimed my theory of art, that nothing in nature is what we see, but the life behind what we see. I didn’t add the rest of the idea which is that the life within everything inscrutable and answers to its own demands. The only response I have to THAT is gratitude to nature for letting me in on a little something from time to time.
But the point — to which we both agree — is that it’s all very personal, meaning to the person looking at the work, maybe buying it.
And, of course, we talked about what probably every two artists have spoken about together since the beginning of time. Which is why are we doing this? After looking at my paintings, she became a little frustrated with her work which is felted clothing. I listened while she worked that all out — she makes money from her work and I, obviously, don’t make money from mine. It isn’t that I don’t want to, it’s that no one sees it. So far in my life, when people see it, they buy it. We talked about marketing and promotion — she’s a good saleswoman and goes to shows and has her work in stores. But THAT? In any case if I want to sell at the Crane Festival next year (which I do) she’ll help me by loaning me panels so I can hang my work. Behind the conversation was the immense expense in even getting work out where people can see it and buy it.
It was great conversation, inspiring and fun. Then “What will you do if Trump is elected president again?”
“Perla, remember? We already have a plan. We’re going to Argentina.”
“That’s right Patagonia. Good. Good.” It was a wonderful, wonderful day. And THEN?
Wu Song appeared in the garden and this morning? Two more — Lao She and Pearl Buck. Three have emerged in the house this morning, as well. Looks like I’ll have beans after all. Thank you mysterious forces of the universe that combine a seed, dirt, water and light. They will be growing among several sunflowers who will help hold them up, attract bees and add general amazingness to the garden.