Creative Writing for oil paintings in the art gallery.
| Numerous other students had
come by my easel to view the painting, provide encouragement and let me know how much they
liked the painting. Mrs. G., however, was noticeably quiet about the painting, and I
knew what she was thinking.
She didn't like the fact I had painted this from a photograph out of a book. She had always impressed upon us how important it was to paint from real life. I felt like I had let her down.
But isn't there value in painting from a photo? Can't one learn to observe the image that is being rendered? Can't one learn about paint, brush stroke and color, and begin to develop one's own artistic style?
Despite the compliments from my fellow students, there was something missing in the painting for me, and I knew there were other paintings I had done that I liked better. Perhaps Mrs. G. was right after all.
However, the fact remains this particular painting probably receives more notice and more compliments than any of my other work.
"He had seen the painting while on display at a local coffee shop. His wife had
liked it, and now he wanted to buy it for her as a birthday present. "Are the
paintings for sale?" he asked.
"As a general rule they're not for sale, but if there's a painting you like, we might be able to work something out."
We finally settled on $200--a lot in some ways, but not to me. I'd generally rather give a painting away to a friend or relative than to sell it to a stranger for a couple hundred dollars. But in this case it seemed to be for a worthy cause; and he was a nice fellow.
The painting was brought to his office, where he was to pay for it. The fluorescent light of the office was stark and bright and revealed the painting in all its imperfections. In particular, he could see that the picture had been painted over a previously used canvas, and the image of a farm house could be seen in the background.
This was troubling to him, and he expressed his concern about buying the painting with this blemish. He was nice about it, of course; for after all, he was a very nice fellow.
I took the painting and left, adding the experience to my long list of failed business ventures.
The painting had always been a favorite of my father's, and he recently asked me if he could have it to put in his office at work. I said surely. And now, with the painting residing in the office of my father, I am certainly glad that I painted it on an old, previously used canvas, with the image of a farmhouse clearly evident in the background when under the illumination of fluorescent light.
| She came up
to my dormitory room in the early evening, ostensibly to play a game of Scrabble. We
stood awkwardly in the living area. The light from a setting sun shone through broad
windows into a white box of a room, unobstructed by trees, for we were on the eighth
A warm glow filled the room and illuminated a wall of paintings. She was immediately taken by this particular painting. "Why does he have such a small penis?" she asked.
"Perhaps I have painted him in my own image," I responded. "Perhaps I didn't want his penis to be the focus of the painting. Or perhaps, I simply painted him incorrectly."
suggested we go watch the sun set over the mountains. It seemed like a good enough
idea; there wasn't much else to do. So we left our camp site and set off, the ten or
so of us, skipping through the trees, chatting about much of nothing.
We emerged from the trees and entered a clearing on the side of a hill with an open view of the mountains. We all sat down and waited patiently for the sun to make its downward course.
The conversation seemed to ease as we breathed the clean, cool, fresh air; a gentle breeze blowing wisps of hair on our young heads.
The sun gradually dipped behind the mountain peaks, the sky became a towering canvas of deep yellows and orange, and we ceased all conversation.
The sun quickly dipped beneath the peaks, leaving us in a cold shadow. We slowly arose, still not speaking, and eased our way back through the trees, silent in our own meditations.
Nudes on the Beach
She had written a note on a scrap of paper and attached it to my easel with a colored push-pin. The note was cheerful and written in large circular letters:
"Don, this is a wonderful painting!"
I was pleased she liked the painting, for she had been the model for it.
She said she would be interested in showing my work, but wanted to see them first.
So I packed up a representational cross-section in the back of my hatch-back and took them
into her coffee shop for review. She tended to ho-hum over those paintings which
were my personal favorites, but then took particular notice of this one. (This was a
surprise to me, for she did not strike me as the type who would take to nudes.) I
left the paintings for her to hang as she deemed fit.
Several weeks later, when in the shop to have coffee, I noted that she had hung the paintings. This particular one was at the center, a bright spotlight beaming down upon it.
And so, the painting of a nude in boots, with its prominent derriere facing us in all its glory, represented everything that I was as an artist.
Nude in Boots
| "Are you
ready to order?" she asked. Of course I was ready. It was always the
same thing every diner I went--two eggs over medium, American Fries, whole wheat toast and
a cup of coffee. This was the most food you could get for the least amount of
It was a gray day, with a steady rain. I had my back to the main window, but to my left I could look out upon the parking lot, a gentle rain falling upon small pools of standing water.
I gazed in a particularly blank and emotionless manner this morning; a steady discontent growing in my still slumbering bones.
As I waited for my meal to be brought I looked down upon the place mat that adorned my spot at the counter. There was a large, soft-edged photograph of a pleasant and placid vale with thick, low-lying clouds. It was warm and enveloping--a welcome sight in a land that was a million miles away from the nearest approximation of a mountain.
She brought my food and laid the plate before me. She was very pleasant, but I wasn't going to be responsive on this particular morning, regardless of how pleasant she might have been.
Even with food in my stomach and a full refill of coffee, the discontent still lingered.
She took my plate and left me with only my mug of coffee and the place mat with the strangely alluring gray vale. I rolled up the place mat--now covered with grease and toast crumbs--placed it in my coat pocket, paid my bill and proceeded homeward, having decided to paint the vale, and resolving to salvage this gray day.
I sat at the picnic table of our campsite, painting supplies laid out at
table's edge, staring at a blank white canvas on a makeshift easel. I found myself
thinking back upon the disaster at Wyalusing . . .
It was a beautiful site, sitting high on a bluff overlooking the Wisconsin River where it converged with the Mississippi. These sites were by far the most desirable at Wyalusing and were therefore hard to come by. Fortunately, we came on a Sunday afternoon and were able to snatch the site after the weekend campers had left.
From this site you could see far into the distance, over a lush patchwork of corn and soy farmland. In the distance were verdant bluffs on the Iowa side of the river.
This scenic wonder had somehow moved me to attempt a painting of reckless abandon; to be totally free and expressive, and to be absolutely creative in a way that I had never been before.
And so I commenced to let the paint fly. I let colors freely bleed one into the other. I exaggerated human dimensions. I created overlapping layers of wild images.
I had been quite busy for some time and had not really stepped back to look upon the nascent stages of this creation. But doing so, I realized how utterly grotesque it looked.
I took steps to aright the mess, covering up various eyesores and trying now to give form to the formless. Yet the more I tried to remedy the situation, the worse it became.
Other curious campers came by to preview my work. "Looks nice," they would say, but I knew they were lying.
I was soon overcome with frustration. Never before had I so utterly failed at a painting. Desperate, I threw the painting to the ground, hoping that a coating of leaves, pine needles and dirt would transform it; but to no avail--the painting merely looked uglier than ever before.
I threw it back to the ground, crushed it with a stiff boot and tossed it into the fire. I was overcome with a sense of ease as I watched the painting crackle and then disappear before me.
. . . With these thoughts of Wyalusing still fresh in my mind, I thought it safe to simply pluck a fresh leaf covered in dew, and try to capture the effect of sun passing through its moist, green flesh.
I ultimately returned to Wyalusing and created another painting. The result is this rather ordinary looking work. However, even having created a second-rate painting made me feel settled and gave closure to a disturbing ordeal.
Oil on Paint Board
The music book was a collection of piano pieces from various artists, and on its cover were photos of various album covers. These photos were wonderful images of nature. I systematically painted all of them. This one--very painterly, but sparing--turned out to be one of my favorites.
consecutive mornings, painting someone else's home from the back stoop of my own, trying
to capture the morning light before it slips away into noon. Sure enough, the
shadows move fast when you're painting--not as fast as a child at play, but fast all the
Mrs. G. had always said it was best to paint from real life to capture depth and light; but I could never tell the difference in my finished paintings. Maybe others can.
In any event, having made the effort to go out three mornings straight gave me a certain sense of accomplishment, and made me feel like a real painter.
This is surely one of the rare advantages of working the second shift at a hamburger joint--you can paint someone else's empty home in the morning, while they're out making real money.
"OH THING OF BEAUTY
Through the Trees
now and then I feel like trying to do something creative in a painting, which is usually
not a good idea for me.
In this particular case I thought I would try to render the effect seen in the sky where the deep blue high in the sky melds with a hazy gray at the horizon. To do this I would stroke blue from the top, starting with a broad brush and have it taper to a thin line at the horizon.
The effect, as you can see, is not a creative rendition of the sky, but rather the appearance of a majestic, wide fountain.
As this painting was actually done from a photograph of Yellowstone Lake, one must conclude that this is not a fountain at all, but rather 100 geysers all going off simultaneously.
had arrived late at night the previous evening. I tried to find a hotel, but the
only one I could locate was far too seedy for the price they were asking. This was
not a good sign, and suggested I might have to sleep in the car that evening in the
shadows of an empty parking lot.
The yards were filled with dark, lush foliage. The structures were made of stucco and painted in hues of pink and yellow.
The air was heavy, warm and moist and thick with the scents of the street. The sheer density of the air constrained motion, as if wading through water. I knew that I was in the deep South, and also near the ocean.
Not being able to find a place to sleep, I resolved to continue to my destination and perhaps find a comfortable parking lot to spend the evening. I found my way to St. Charles and was soon greeted by broad, stately oak trees whose thick branches hung out far over the boulevard and formed a protective canopy.
A rumbling, clanking noise approached from behind. I pulled off to the right, not knowing what it was and feeling like it would otherwise land upon me. A broad street car, painted in deep red and olive green, with distinctive wood trim, rolled past. Had it not been so dark I would have surely noticed the tracks in the middle of the broad boulevard, and deduced their purpose.
The trees, the air, strange sights and the darkness of night all combined to create a surreal scene through which I streamed. It was at once wondrous and eerie.
I soon arrived at my destination--an imposing edifice of large, gray, square-cut stones surrounded with flowering foliage of all sorts and lit with multi-colored incandescent foot lights that radiated beams high into the black night. I was glad that I had come, for I suddenly knew that this was where I wanted to spend the next three years of my life.
Unfortunately, however, there were no suitable parking lots in which to slumber, so I made my way to a local late-night restaurant to scan the telephone directory for possible lodging.
I was fortunate to find a YMCA within a short distance that had rooms at a reasonable rate. I wasted no time in driving there, registering, going to my room and flopping onto the bed without even bringing up my luggage.
I awoke early the next morning to the sound of traffic out my small window. I arose and looked out upon the street. Cars busied themselves, presumably on their way to work, and an assortment of persons ambled by. Most evident were a number of homeless persons either laying upon the grass of the circle or entrenched on one of the many wooden benches. The light of day somehow revealed this world in a whole new light, making me wonder whether the previous night had really existed or was merely a transient dream.
The light of day also revealed the condition of the room in which I slept and made me realize why I had gotten it for such a good price. Smaller than a prison cell, it had dark paneling and a cold, hard Formica-covered floor. Medium-sized roaches skittered along the baseboards, fearful of the light.
I made my way to the bathroom, which was down the hall and to the right, and quite distant from my room. There was one other man--young, lean and curly-haired--standing at a sink brushing his teeth and standing in only his briefs. I was quite surprised to see him pack his kit and parade out into the hallway with only his briefs for wear; for this was, after all, a facility shared also by women.
I decided to quickly leave this place before I changed my mind about wanting to do my studies in this town. So I snapped a quick photo of the view out the window to memorialize the experience, gathered my few belongings and left.
On my way out I mentioned to the woman working at the front desk the situation with the roaches. She expressed concern and assured me that the room would be fumigated upon my departure. I did not really believe her and did not really care, for I knew that chemical treatment would probably not make any difference.
I greeted the bright light of day with promise, descended the stone steps and found myself wishing I too could feel comfortable walking about in only my underwear.
I had known for some time that the student art show was approaching, and had meant
to use it as an impetus to break out the paint and create some fresh works. But my
studies genuinely kept me from carrying out my conviction.
I ultimately decided that doing a few paintings was just as important as studying the federal revenue code, and proceeded to whip out three paintings in the course of as many days.
However, the paint on these canvasses did not have time to dry by the weekend, and I found myself gingerly carrying them over to the quad for the art show.
It was a pretty well attended show, mainly with works from the women's college, which had a rich artistic tradition. The paintings were to be judged by a panel of local notables in the art community; including art professors, an art critic from the Times-Picayune and a representative from the city's art museum.
The first prize winner was to receive $100 and have his or her painting shown at the public museum for the rest of the spring--a tasty prize to me, who had never been in any art show before.
After several hours of standing at my booth I ventured off to view the other works. I was astonished, really. I honestly concluded that my works, and this one in particular, were better than the others. This is not to say that there were not some very respectable works done by talented artists; but the others all had an amateur look to them that was quite evident to me.
And so I fell into the trap that one must always avoid, of beginning to get your hopes up of winning something.
The winners were not announced until late in the afternoon, which meant I had an entire afternoon of deluding myself that I might actually take first place. The results were even worse than expected.
I could not believe the painting that took first place. It was a still-life of a wine bottle and some fruit, painted in a somewhat painterly fashion, but quite amateurish, and with no style.
I tried to find solace in the fact that one of my paintings did at least take third place (Columbus Circle).
At the end of the day I found myself clumsily carrying off my goods, trying to make sense out of the day. Perhaps this proved that art critics are not absolute authorities and we should not let our art (or our emotions) be controlled by them. Or perhaps this demonstrated that art is inherently a subjective medium and we, as artists, must recognize and respect all views and tastes.
The paintings, still wet with fresh paint, proved too much of a load, and I spilled them to the ground. This one fell face down onto a small heap of dirt and shredded gravel. The painting was covered, and there was no way to extract the numerous particles that scattered the surface of the painting. This was surely an appropriate end to this day.
Once back in my dorm room, I hung the painting on the wall to dry and to protect it from further havoc. Viewing the painting in this light, I suddenly realized how much I liked the effect of the earthen particles. It gave the painting texture and depth, and helped soften a perhaps overly glossy surface.
I have been purposely dropping paintings onto the ground ever since.
|She heard about
my paintings from someone who had attended a party in my dorm room. Based on this
information alone she apparently concluded that I was some kind of accomplished artist and
asked if she could be a model for a painting. That was fine with me, but I made
sure to let her know what she was getting into.
For one, being a model is not as glamorous as it may appear to the uninitiated. Just the simple task of sitting in one position for hours at a time is not particularly easy. In fact, it's downright hard.
Secondly, I informed her I was not that accomplished of an artist and she should be prepared for the possiblity that she might not like the painting. She accepted my terms and we agreed to meet at a time certain.
Although she had at first wanted to model nude, she changed her mind at the sitting. This was fine with me, for I'd only want her to do that if she were comfortable with it. I also find painting clothing to be about as interesting as (and certainly easier than) painting the human form.
She was a good model, but soon the cricks and cranks began to develop. I ended up taking a picture of her and finishing the work from the photograph. I don't believe she was ultimately particularly fond of the painting, but there is no doubt the painting basically captured both her appearance and personality. She gave the painting to her mother, who apparently likes it very much.
While pursuing a career in acting I had the occasion to work as a waiter at numerous
restaurants accross the country. I met many interesting individuals and have a
number of fond memories . . .
Norbie Baker had been a real celebrity in his younger days, for he played the accordian for and led a popular polka band. Although he no longer played the accordian, his restaurant was frequented by many former acquaintances and admirers. The young people who did not know of his former accomplishments came primarily because Norbie served some of the best prime rib in the city.
He was a lumbering, deliberate, slow moving man, and I could hardly conceive of his fingers moving rapidly over the numerous keys and buttons of an accordian. Yet he was a true, warm-hearted fellow who treated you as a person, and I respected him for that.
Yet it was because I respected him that I was particularly hurt by a comment he made to me one day at work. I don't know if he was having a bad day, but for some reason he barked at me and criticized me for "being in a world of my own." Though his comment may have been true (I generally find my own world to be preferable to the one around me), I didn't understand why I was deserving of criticism.
I later expressed to him my concern about his comment, and questioned whether I should continue working there if he harboured negative feeling about me. He ultimately apologized to me for the comment and said he wanted me to stay. I could tell that apologizing was not easy for him, for he was a very prideful man.
Shortly before leaving the restaurant to attend graduate school I decided to do a painting for Norbie. He had been very decent to both myself and my small son (who was an occasional visitor), and I wanted to return the favor.
When I presented the painting to Norbie at a casual gathering after work one night, I was surprised to see how affected he was by the gift. He kept holding the painting and looked up and down at it without saying anything. At first I thought he wasn't saying anything because he didn't really like it and didn't know what to say; but then I could see the tears welling up in his eyes, and realized that he was not speaking because he had been overcome by emotion.
He pushed up thick glasses on his broad face, looked up and down the painting some more, then carried the painting carefully out of the restaraunt and into his home, located next door.
The experience provided a poignant reminder that sometimes a painting can mean much more to someone else than to myself.
Having recently graduated from college, my father encouraged me to find an occupation for making money and, in particular, expressed concern about my spending too much time painting (which made no money whatsoever). So I schemed for some way to make money from my painting.
I ultimately came up with the idea of painting the homes of the wealthy and then selling the paintings to them. The idea blossomed (then withered) in this fashion:
I took several photographs of homes in the North Shore area of Milwaukee--a lovely and stately community located near the lake, north of the city. I painted two of the homes and was fairly pleased with the results; I felt they were at least worth approaching the home owners for possible sale.
And so I summoned up my courage and drove to the first home. I tentatively approached the first home with painting in hand, beginning to realize what those door-to-door salesmen must feel like.
An attractive middle-aged woman with long dark hair opened the door. "Yes, may I help you?" she asked. "Hello. I'm wondering . . . I've done a painting of your home and I'm wondering if you might possibly interested in buying it." She took the painting in hand and looked it over quickly. She was evidently taken with the painting and called for her husband.
(For some odd reason I have absolutely no recollection of the husband, but I know that he came, he liked the painting as well, and my spirits lifted in anticipation of a successful first sale.) "How much do you want for it?" she asked.
This is the part I hate: putting a price tag on a product or service for sale. Oh how the mind starts reasoning. . . . Don't price it too high and risk getting no sale at all. Better to price it low, guarantee a sale and let business grow through word of mouth. . . . But don't price it too low or else they'll figure the painting must not be worth much. I ultimately opted for the low figure; let me at least recoup my investment in the canvas, paint and frame and make a few dollars for my full day of work painting it. "I was hoping to get at least thirty to forty dollars for it."
She winced her lips. "Hmmm . . ." She looked at her husband. "Well . . . Would you take twenty dollars?" I was crushed. Twenty dollars would hardly cover the cost of the supplies. But of course I would take twenty dollars, for twenty dollars was more than nothing.
Having made so little on the painting, and feeling like my father was right about my wasting too much time on a profitless venture, I returned home without even attempting to sell the second painting.
Gradually, though, I reconsidered the proposition of selling the second painting. I tend to get discourage too easily when things don't go well, and so resolved to give it another try.
I approached the second home with even more trepidation than the first, and found myself filling my head with rationalizations . . . "This is not a bad painting; they should like it. In fact, they should feel downright lucky that I picked their home out of the thousands of homes in the city. . . . These people have plenty of money; paying fifty to a hundred dollars means nothing to them." And so I rang the doorbell with renewed courage and hope. No one came to the door at first, but I continued to ring. Eventually, the door slowly opened and a small, gray-haired woman in a black dress peered through a crack in the door. "Hello," I said. "Are you the owner of the home?" "Yes," she replied. I showed the painting to her. "I've done a painting of your home . . ."
She immediately shut the door and locked it fast, leaving me standing with a painting in my hands that cost me close to twenty dollars and took another full day to paint.
The painting has since been taken by my father, displayed in his bedroom and surely been a source of pride for him, for my having at least tried to make money from this otherwise unlucrative pasttime.
I have never again really tried to make money with any of my paintings.
North Shore Home
I met her at the Big Boy Restaurant on South 76th Street. She was one of the newer waitresses (and not one of the better ones) and so she worked the counter, where I typically sat. Some of the other girls were friendly enough with me, but she was especially friendly and seemed to make an effort to spend time talking with me as I ate.
She was fairly tall and lean, with thin brown hair that brushed atop rigid shoulders. Though cute enough, she presented herself someone awkwardly, with disheveled work clothes and a rumpled bra that made me wonder whether or not her breasts were real.
She was strangely forthright about various personal matters and, in particular, discussed her condition of self-mutilation. She showed me the scars on her wrists and forearms where she had routinely cut and disfigured herself with various sharp and blunt objects. "Why do you do that?" I calmly asked. "It makes me feel better," she responded. "Okay . . ." I thought to myself, "This girl is really mixed up." But it didn't matter to me, for I enjoyed her company and, I must admit, found myself attracted to her.
I suggested we get together some time. She seemed quite open to the idea and suggested we get together for breakfast.
We met for breakfast at the Golden Basket, a friendly, modest Greek diner on the southwest side. She seemed especially perky and mischievous on this morning. "You're certainly in a good mood today," I remarked. "I should be," she replied, "I took a whole handful of my pills this morning." "I feel like I could fly," she quipped, flapping her arms.
She kept laughing and giggling as we waited for our food. Our food arrived and I began to prepare for its consumption, but then started, as I unexpectedly felt something on my thigh. It was her foot (shoeless), which ultimately found its way to my privates. I looked up and found her smiling and giggling. Not saying anything I grabbed her foot and gave it a quick run with my finger. Reflexively, she pulled back quickly, her knee loudly knocking the bottom of our table and rattling the plates. She giggled some more as other restaurant patrons glanced our way.
By that time it was clear that neither of us were particularly interested in our food and we decided to leave the place.
We went back to my studio apartment located in the Marquette area where I was subletting for the summer. It was a small, dark affair with one lone window looking upon the dark back side of a large adjacent apartment building housed with students. I used the small kitchenette as a place to paint. Self Portrait sat in the easel, still freshly painted.
I showed her the painting. "That's nice," she said. But I knew she wasn't interested.
It was not long before we found ourselves on the bed, kissing. She wasted no time in taking off her clothes, but only took off one pant leg, for, as she explained, she had to be to work soon and wanted to save time. This struck me as odd, but did not deter me from the natural course of events.
She was a strange animal alright-- remarkably dispassionate and having a disturbing propensity to purposely knock me in the groin with her leg. Clearly, her condition compelled her to hurt others, as well as herself. This behavior, combined with a half-erect sex organ, made for a uniquely unsatisfying experience.
She quickly reclad herself and made for the door. "We need to go, or else I'll be late."
I finished putting on my clothes and exited the room. Only Self Portrait was left looking over the scene, its silent, brooding, piercing eyes attempting to discern the meaning, if any, of this strange encounter.
Oil on Paint Board
|It had been
approximately two years since my hospitalization and I had not done a single painting in
all this time. This was surely one of the pointedly tragic aspects of the whole
ordeal--to always wish for time on your hands to engage in artistic pursuits, but when you
actually have the time, not to be able to utilize it.
I finally pulled the easel and paint supplies out of storage and resolved to do a painting, regardless of how bad I might have felt. I had saved a calendar filled with images of water and boats thereupon and the like, hoping to one day paint them. Now was my chance.
As with most of my paintings this one did not take long. I decided to try to continue my former style of mixing palette knife effects with normal brush strokes.
As with most of my paintings I was not particularly fond of the outcome at first, but grew to like it more over time. In fact, I grew to like it quite a bit. Unfortunately, this made me feel even worse--to recognize I had a talent that was being utterly wasted.
successfully completed a painting during my period of convalescence (Boats), I
decided to try to continue painting, in the hopes that it might help improve my condition,
and that I might continue to feel productive.
I again pulled out my calendar of boats and other water scenes and found this lovely harbor view. I felt particularly bad on the morning of this painting and it was like torture to set up the paint and canvas and engage in all the simple tasks involved with this process. I was compelled to quit and hope for a better day for completing the work.
The painting sat unfinished on its easel in my kitchen for over two years, waiting to be finished. It became an accepted part of my household furnishings, standing by the hutch next to the pile of Sunday newspapers, and drawing comments from the few visitors to my home.
I finally gave up on the idea of completing the painting and took it and the easel into my basement for storage. It still rests upon the easel, hidden in darkness, leaning upon a pile of garment bags, waiting for the possibe hour of its completion.
| back to Art Gallery