Yesterday, I enjoyed playing with color in the footsteps; creating an expressive if imperfect rendition of my morning’s walk. Today, the weather is much nicer, but the drawing carries on that theme of painterly emotional color.
When I was in second grade, we had a drawing assignment to make a pattern on 1″ square grid paper, and my art teacher chose mine to put into the school art show at the public library. My grandma and her friend came down from the big city and hob-nobbed with all the doting parents, grandparents, teachers, and librarians while nibbling bits of cheese and drinking the complimentary grape juice.
It was a formative experience that allowed us students to feel like we mattered in the adult world as creators. A way of participation by suspension of disbelief in the cultural world of grown-ups. The teachers tried to pick everyone’s drawings at different times for the various shows throughout the year so that most if not all the students got to have this cultural moment with their families, so this wasn’t the only time my grandma drove down from Detroit, but it was the first.
When I was in fifth grade, there was a period that I was obsessed with Van Gogh’s Impressionist-Expressionist paintings, and I tried to reproduce them in oil pastel. My mother still has the “Starry Night” that I drew. It doesn’t look anything like Van Gogh, but it was a relatively sophisticated drawing for my age.
The year of Van Gogh, the art teacher was presenting a unit about symmetry. She wanted us to use radial symmetry, branching systems, and reflections in our art works. But from Van Gogh, I’d gone on to admiring Matisse’s and Gaughin’s floral and fauvist drawings of flowers. So I did the assignments as quickly as I could, and went back to drawing Brazilian jungle flowers, and sunflowers; tulips and roses.
That year, maybe because we were in fifth grade, and both fifth and sixth grades were graduating to middle school, she picked less drawings from our class to go to the year-end exhibit, now no longer at the library, but instead at a beautiful gallery in one of the university’s buildings. And maybe because I didn’t listen to her and spent time on my flowers instead of on the symmetry drawings, she didn’t choose the beautiful purple flower that I had perfected and presented as my submission.
Instead, she told me that she could sneak it in as a background drawing with no label, but only if I changed my idea and did something more experimental.
She took my beautiful purple flower, the best version of it, and cut it into pieces. Then she took the second best and third best and cut one of them into pieces too. She told me to glue them down, the whole one, and the two cut-up ones, so that they looked like they were falling into place from disintegrated beauty at the top to the whole drawing at the bottom.
She didn’t ask before she cut them.
It was a cool idea, and I think her experiment is one of the contributing factors that has made me want to try new things and push boundaries in my artwork. I’m not afraid to destroy things; to fold paper; to rip up cloth.
But at the time, I was so hurt and angry that I only grudgingly attempted to finish the drawing by coloring in between the lines on the mat-board we glued it to with ombre’d colored pencil.
Maybe it was the texture of the oil pastel, or the way that the layers took long enough to get right that it felt over-worked until I added more, whatever the reason, when I finished this drawing today, it reminded me of that one from long ago that can never be reconstituted, and I felt a wave of nostalgia, maybe even sadness.
You the viewer won’t feel those things, they aren’t in the drawing, but in my association with layers of oil pastel. Those emotions, the ones that inspired me to make this drawing aren’t linked in your memories to bright drawings of flowers. You will see something different.
Art is like that: though we artists try to control the message, sometimes the baggage doesn’t carry over to the viewer, or vice versa resonates more with the viewer than with the creator.
What do you see in this Winter Aconite?