Before I fell in love

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Dear Artist,

While cleaning out one of our storage areas yesterday, we found a really old paintbox. It turned out to be one of my first: gray-painted, heavy and substantial, built for the road by my dad. Opening it up for the first time in many years, it brought back memories of some of those first hateful paintings I did on it. You see, I had already been painting before really falling in love with painting.

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Old Paintbox
What ghostly losers emanated from this early box? What lessons did I teach myself here? Note the dispenser on the side. In those days I thought toilet paper, with all its lint and flimsiness, would make economical paint rags. At the time I have to say I was also developing what I still think is a good idea: “Edutissue” – a complete University Education printed on a series of rolls for personal, private absorption.

This was the box I took to California when I was 19 and Fen Lansdowne and I visited there. Somewhere below Mt. Shasta I set up while Fen sketched birds and watched me from the car. After an hour of what could only be called struggle, I showed the thing to Fen and he pronounced it “a complete waste of time.” He was right, of course. The work had few redeeming virtues and has long since been deep-sixed.

Fen and I were both aware I wasted time like that, perhaps fifty times over the years while we travelled and worked together. It’s safe to say I got very few glimmers of joy from that sort of paintbox activity. But somewhere along the way, a few not unpleasant things had started to happen, and I’m going to tell you what they were:

I started to notice passages I liked, that also had the distinct look of something I might call mine. I started feeling a sense of pride and ownership. This feeling drove me back to do more and more of it, even to the point of asking my buddy to wait in the car. Then I started to notice something else: I was bonding with the places I chose to paint.

Later still, I began to sense a feeling of “event” with each plein air passage in each chosen spot. While I was conscious of the mighty hand that created all the grandeur and its incumbent difficulty, I was also conscious of the growing power of my own puny hand to do something about it. With this sense of partnership, my power began to grow even more. That’s when I really started to fall in love with doing the job.

Best regards,

Robert

PS: Love takes up where knowledge leaves off. (St. Thomas Aquinas)

Esoterica: That day, while Fen and I were driving away from Mt. Shasta, he mentioned that an event had taken place while I was working. A porcupine had wandered toward me, taken a look at my painting and given me a wide berth. I told Fen that porcupines might have a poor understanding of the potential of dedicated time to try and get the hang of something you don’t know how to do. “Also, porcupines can’t see worth a darn,” said Fen “but, then again, not many people can see what’s going on either.” Then Fen quoted Sherwood Anderson: “I am a lover and I have not yet found my thing to love.” Fen was quiet for a while. “I think you and I, Bob,” he finally said, “are finding our things.”

 

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