I haven’t been posting much lately for various reasons, one of which is that I was hoping to move my blog to a new website I’ve been trying to get going but I’ve had a difficult time finding someone to help me with it. I’m not familiar with web development. It doesn’t seem like it should be this hard to get a web site up.
I’ve written a series of posts here about my wife, Leslie’s, death and how I’ve coped with her loss. I feel like I should conclude this somehow but am not sure how. July 3 marked the one year anniversary of her death. I marked it with family and friends over a few days then went off to Italy for a month. As I look back, it appears that I made a kind of project out of it in that, for the year following Les’ death, I did my best to experience that loss and everything that came along with it as deeply and in as many ways as I could. I did several types of therapy, personal growth seminars, healing ceremonies … whatever I could think of. I said yes to most things that came my way and tried to stay open to whatever came at me. I fell in and out of love and learned that relationships don’t have to have the boundaries I usually contain them with.
The second part of the project was to start having new experiences as a person who is in the world alone. Alone in that, although I have friends and family, my life is no longer shared. The month in Italy was the first step in that.
The year of grieving, as I wrote in earlier posts, was tumultuous and both painful and expansive. I grew and unconcealed parts of me that were buried inside for a long time. I think, in many ways, I realized that I’m the person Les always saw in me and have become better able to see that in myself.
Learning to be myself for myself is something I still grapple with and have been keeping in mind the question, can I be enough for myself? Can I find everything I need to be happy inside me? I get disappointed in my self when I feel a longing for something outside. I can usually let go of it and return to the present but longing for something, something I can’t quite describe, revisits me often. The solitude I hated earlier, I’ve learned to love at the same time that I crave connection with others.
I didn’t used to think I was much of a people person but I know that’s not true now. The reason I’m still alive is the people I love. My fondest memories of this past year and my time in Italy are of the beautiful and interesting people who’ve entered or passed through my life.
A little sketchbook painting, while I try to figure out where to go next.
I’ve noticed that my interactions with people and the way I communicate, both in person and in writing, seem more deeply felt. I believe that, having lived through a time of urgent communication with Les, when I was frantic to leave nothing unsaid, has spoiled me for light banter.
Even though Les’ last days were so painful, I often find myself wanting to be there again. The air in the room was so full of urgency and intimacy. We often speak of the miracle of birth but death is a miracle as well. We tried our best to treat it like that. It seems so absurd, now, that we connected even more deeply just before parting forever.
Wow, rough week! Just when you think you’ve entered calm waters, out of nowhere some kind of psychic wave crashes over you.
There have been three or four watershed events, in my life, that have radically changed how the world occurs for me. The first was my first experience with LSD. The fact that everything appeared different to me, while under the effects of the drug, opened me to that there may be things beyond my perception. Leslie’s death has jarred me that way, although not as pleasantly.
I’ve made a lot of mental maneuvers to try and make sense out of what’s happened or, rather, to construct some kind of meaning. Holding that all together is more work than I realized and a seemingly insignificant event shattered it all in a second. The illusion of meaning I had so cleverly duct taped together crashed down on my head. leaving me feeling foolish and deluded.
Fortunately I have friends who impossibly manage to tolerate these manic episodes. They listen calmly and stand at a safe distance until they can get close enough to put their arms around me and say, “Deep breath.” “You’re OK.” “You’re held closely and dearly.” “I consider it a gift each time you choose to share your staggering”.
I’ve been working on a large piece that’s taking a long time so I took a break and did this still life of a papaya. My acupuncturist recommended that I eat papaya for the enzymes that I seem to be missing.
Leslie had this reproduction of a Fra Lippo Liippi painting of the Blessed Mother as long as I knew her. She kept it close to her bed, especially in trying times. Les had an eclectic set of religious beliefs. She also loved Paramahansa Yogananda and recently reread his autobiography.
This still life includes Leslie’s glasses and her copy of Autobiography of a Yogi, her keys and icon and it’s all resting on one of her scarves.
This Saturday would have been Les’ 62nd birthday. Happy Birthday, Sweetheart, if you’re still following the blog.
Some more of Les’ things here. She didn’t use the basket but she bought it for our daughter to use for school, when she was very young. The cloth she used to wear as a kind of wrap around skirt at the beach, when we first met and the house is full of these brown medicine bottles. Les loved alternative medicine and up to the last day she was conscious, she used the stuff in that bottle.
I’ve had this and another on the easel for a while. I’m not sure I’m finished. I want to let it sit for a while. Sometimes when I get to this point with a painting, I decide it’s better to just start another than to continue to worry this one. I’ve painted a few versions of this scene now, each a little different.
This past weekend was the first weekend of the 2012 Portland Open Studios tour. I worked on this study of the studio corner while a slow but steady stream of folks perused my recent oil paintings and sketchbooks.
Thanks everyone who came by or checked my website. I’m looking forward to the second weekend of the tour.
I have a book in my studio titled “Inside The Painter’s Studio” by Joe Fig. It’s a series of interviews with NY area painters in which the author asks the same set of questions about artist’s studios and work habits and includes pictures of their studios.
I came across a great quote from Ryan McGinness, the other day, in the book. In response to a question about advice for young painters just starting out, McGinness says, “I would say to not worry about being an artist or trying to make art, just kind of make whatever you have to make, and then build a life around that. I think that was one of the biggest breakthroughs for me, just realizing … because I went through a period where I was just trying to make art and, consequently, I made things that were really imitative. There was no real model or precedent for what I liked to do but, when you realize you just have to do what you do and not worry about whether it fits the mold or a model of what art is, then you’re truly making innovative or breakthrough … or at the very least, honest work.”
I think that’s a very interesting statement and, for me, as someone who spends a lot of time inside my head, freeing.
When my daughter was little, we made this toy boat together from scraps of left over lumber. I think she tried to take it in the bathtub, or maybe that was me. If our bathroom is ever finished I’ll try her out again.
One of the things that I hate most about exhibiting is writing an artist statement. Honestly, my statement is that I try to make something I enjoy looking at. I’m not really a very organized painter, as far as what I’m trying to accomplish. I might start out with a vague idea in my head, inspired by something I’ve seen or by another painting I’ve just finished and want to continue on. With the painting above, I started out thinking about Richard Diebenkorn’s early figurative paintings, which are sort of expressionistic……
Richard Diebenkorn “Interior with Flowers” Oil on Canvas
56 3/4 x 38 3/4 inches 1961
… and sort of ended up in pseudo-impressionism. I’ve always loved those early Diebenkorns and find it fascinating how they morphed into the Ocean Park type paintings he’s so famous for.
I tend to spend very little time setting up a still life and prefer to paint a scene I come across. Sometimes I try to put together a thoughtful still life setup but often get bored and just start painting and figure it out as I go. In this painting, I placed the pruning shears toward the end. I’ve painted this blue bowl several times before, in the same size and format and thought this might become part of that series. It’s painted somewhat differently and I’m not sure if it fits as a series yet. Thinking . . . . .
I’ve been lazy about photography, lately. I apologize for the glare and push pin shadows.
It feels a bit cliched to talk about things I’m thankful for, at this time of year but I’m going to do it anyway. I’ve written on this blog before that for the last 13 years, my wife has been living with cancer. Three years ago the cancer returned and metastasized. The fact that Les is still with me and, all things considered, doing quite well is the single thing I’m most thankful for. Knowing that I may lose her has drawn us very close, especially over the last 3 years and I would say that these have been our best years together.
Thanks also to those who have read and left comments on the blog this year. I’ve not been a very consistent blogger and I appreciate that you took the time to visit and leave the occasional encouraging remark.
I’ve had to move back out of the studio to allow the electrician, insulation installers and, next week, sheetrockers and painter, do their work. I did get a few more small studies done before moving out.
Both of my daughters draw well. When they were in elementary school, they did some ceramics one summer. We still have many of the pieces they made. They are among my favorite things.
The little clay box in this still life was made by my older daughter.
8″ x 10″ oil on panel
It’s a little odd getting used to painting in natural light, having always done still life painting under lights. I’m painting these recent studies without lights and, although it’s been cloudy, I do notice shifts in light throughout the day. It may take a little while to find the ideal way to set these up.
As with plein air painting, I sometimes struggle to see my panel, in natural light. Maybe there’s something wrong with my eyes. Many painters frown on using photos but sometimes I find it helpful to photograph my still life setups. Often it’s easier for me to see values, I’m struggling with, in a photo than than by looking directly at the objects.
The electrician comes today to wire the studio and hopefully I’ll have sheetrock on Monday!
view of veg garden from studio door, looking east.