listening to the rain
It's a foggy day again. Fog this morning. Rain early afternoon. Fog came back. I'm going to see my friends Sara and Dana this evening, a drive down the Parkway north through peasoup fog. It's a natural law that every time I go to see them the Parkway has peasoup fog. I've gone to taking Bullhead Road to Mahogany Rock Road to DeWitt Road to Hwy 21, then north on Parkway a little ways. It's about 3 times as far, but I've driven in peasoup fog until I don't care to do it anymore. It's the anxiety in it I don't like. Driving 5-10 mph head out the window looking at the double yellow line next to the tire. Headlights make a white-out. High beam is blinding. Once I drove my mother and grandmother through peasoup fog on the Parkway, their only time in the mountains. Mother asked, "How do you know you're not going to go off the side of the mouuntain?" I said, "I don't." It was really uncertain when the double yellow line ended for a space of 50 feet or more. I had to drive all that distance feeling the road under the tires in case the tires on left or right left the road. The double yellow line always reappeared and close to where I imagined it might. The Parkway has put broken lines through that empty stretch, which help tremendously. Mostly they help the anxiety. But I'm not going that way if it's foggy.
I've been seeing video of a PBS tv series ART:21. It's artists of the 21st century. Only 10 years into the century, these particular artists are the guiding lights for the future of art. These are the NY artists getting the most attention over the last 10 years. They are the children of my generation. Art left the canvas years ago and by now canvas is not even a consideration. In late 80s I knew a woman in Miami, Ann Sams, who dyed long stretches of fabric in abstract slashes of dye, which would hang in various ways in various places. She told me I was out of the mainstream painting on canvas. She couldn't get over that I didn't care. I don't want to be in a mainstream. Isn't there something about going in the broad highway won't get you to heaven, it's a one-at-a-time gate, like a turnstile at subway stations. My world is not New York or any urban center where artists are expressing urban angst. I don't know that experience any more. I have an appreciation for what's happening in contemporary art, all along the way in my lifetime. I like to see what the people on the cutting edge are doing. But I'm not on that cutting edge. I live in the country where urban considerations are nil.
I live among people who think Norman Rockwell is the greatest. It's difficult in these mountains to paint realism and not be compared to Norman Rockwell, but I think I've found a way. He paints cartoons. I tend to paint poems, visual poems. I stopped doing pencil drawings because of all the comparisons to Rockwell. The Norman Rockwell of the mountains. Alas, Willard Gayheart gets that name a lot when he's nothing in this world like Rockwell except that it looks like real people. Willard is ok with the comparison, I am not. I like to paint realism because I live in a world of people who don't know art beyond realism. That's ok. I paint on canvas because I enjoy it. I'm not anywhere near the cutting edge. I'm way back there in the wake, out of sight over the horizon. That's where I like to be. I don't want to be involved in the art market game. I don't want people speculating when they buy one of my paintings, like playing the stock market or a casino. I don't like that world at all. It's too Hollywood. That's ok. I stay at home and do it my way and let it be. I'm not climbing any ladder to success.
The people of the art guild in town resent me for not joining them, but I can't afford to pay them monthly what they want to let people look at my pictures. It's not worth it to me. I don't care if nobody sees my pictures. I care about some people seeing them, but not many. I already know that none will be bought, and if one is sold per year, all it does is pay rent. Meaning I end up with nothing. I'm not financially set to be giving money to people and organizations just because they want it. Groceries come first, gas, electric bill, phone bill, insurance, etc. Like I walk in the door, "How long has it been since you've been in here?" in passive-aggressive tone of voice. I said, "About a year," and endured a sermon about my indifference. I held back saying, How long has it been since you were in my store? It's never happened. I've not gone in since. An oldie just now popped into my head, "Two different worlds, we live in two different worlds." That's about right.
The thing is, I don't really care whether I ever paint again or not. I do because I want to, because I like playing with the magic of paint. That's how it was in the 10 years of painting houses. I learned that anything can be done in a box-shaped room with 4 walls, ceiling, floor, windows and doors. Any mood can be created with colors. Colors have feelings. And walking into a room painted black isn't as bad as it seems. Leave off all the old symbolism of death and black is one of the more beautiful colors. I wouldn't want to live in a black room, but the trim around windows and doors can make it pop with life. It would make good space between pictures and paintings hanging on the walls. It would enhance every color in the room. The room would need a lot of light to keep the black from being oppressive. I've seen a room with a thin layer of green glazed over black with cheesecloth. It was beautiful, but at the same time unappealing. Interesting that it could be done, but not something you want to see a second time. Some people like dark walls. I like light walls.
When I was in first grade, 1948, the early years of abstraction in paintings, getting headlines in newspapers and humorous representations on the Ed Sullivan show, like the guy that dipped worms in paint and let them crawl around on a canvas. The teacher wanted us to draw a picture that didn't represent anything except the colors themselves. Everybody else in the class did it, but I couldn't see that way. I needed a likeness of something alive. I ended up smearing so many colors of paint together I got mostly black and drew an Alice in Wonderland in what appeared to be a black hole in the forest (that's my memory, which is quite uncertain). The teacher failed me on it because it wasn't the assignment. But I couldn't draw something that wasn't something. That's how it is now. I love abstractions and all the art coming through NY that is contemporary, but it's not mine to do.
Whenever I go to a city, I make a bee line to the contemporary art museum and nothing else matters. It humbles me so far down that I don't even want to get in the running. I want to stay out of that flow of the new. I want to stay out of competition, out of the expectations. I like to paint pictures of people playing acoustic instruments now. I also like to remind myself I am an "untrained" artist, another word for folk artist. I paint the folk around me, the folk of the world I live in, the world I love. I don't live in NY and that is not my culture. I want to paint so the people of the culture I live in can relate to them. Pretending to paint for NY would be fake as fake gets. My paintings are about honoring the people whose likenesses I render the best I can. My next attempt at a face is Ralph Stanley. I feel like I'm jumping off a cliff with a hang glider first time. It has to be just right or not at all. I think of it like zen archery sometimes. One chance only to hit the flying bird. That's what I look for when I paint and that's why it's so "difficult." It can be a major drain of energy achieving a likeness of a face with paint, and hands. It enters the realm of the magical for me to be able to make a likeness such that people who know the characters recognize them. It's important to me.
So I'm out of the mainstream, like sitting on the bank watching the river go by. I have to say contemporary artists inspire me. I like seeing what directions the art world is taking. I like seeing my paintings as abstract compositions camouflaged by recognizable images. The realism is composed of abstraction that is unseen because the image is recognized. That's how I like it. I like about my own painting that I'm not following any stream of the new, the cool, the whatever. I just want to make pictures that favor the likeness of the people they represent. I feel like spending the rest of my life honoring the mountain musicians. The music is the art form of the mountain people, and it's dynamic. It lives.
Please, anyone coming along in art, don't take my attitude as your model. It will get you nowhere. If nowhere is where you want to go, my tracks are good ones to follow.