Hope

20

Dear Artist,

When I was a kid my folks took me on a road trip. As we approached the town of Hope, B.C., we saw, crawling up the shoulder of a steep hill, an ancient Model T Ford. A skinny, mustachioed man wearing a fedora was sitting up tall behind the wheel. Below him, a sign on the side of the old car read “Toronto or Bust.” Toronto was 5500 miles away. As we flew by in our ’47 Chev Fleetline I distinctly remember my dad turning to me, winking, and saying, “No hope.” My mom laughed. Dad turned out to be wrong. Two months later we read about the guy in the newspaper. He had driven from Vancouver, B.C., to Toronto, Ontario in a 1914 Ford. And then — he drove back!

The Studio, 1881 oil on canvas by Marie Bashkirtseff (1858-1884)

The Studio, 1881
oil on canvas
by Marie Bashkirtseff (1858-1884)

I’ve often thought about that fleeting image and the guy behind the wheel. Perhaps it was the seed that became my lifelong love of vintage cars. But it was the look of expectation that was on his face — it was a look of hope. He was unconventional. He knew not where he would spend the night. He was traveling according to his own code. And he feared not.

We artists are like that guy. We stick our necks out with old fashioned technology and try to make a journey out of it. This journey takes us goodness knows where. But that’s the point. Every day we crank up the old machine and head out once more along the shoulder of life. Many of us do not make it to Toronto, New York, London, Paris or even Oz. Who is there among us who fully understands where we get our vision or to what end it goes? Who understands fully how what we do can be both agreeable and disagreeable? To folks like us, the main thing is that we are on the road. And what a road.

Best regards,

Robert

At A Book, 1882 oil on canvas by Marie Bashkirtseff

At a Book, 1882
oil on canvas
by Marie Bashkirtseff

PS: Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul
And sings the tunes without the words
And never stops–at all. (Emily Dickinson)

Esoterica: I started drawing cars when I was in college. Right down the sides of my math notes. They were old cars, classic cars. I saw value in something that had gone before. I thought I was going Romantic. My psych professor thought I was “regressive.” The more I drew the more I began to think about a golden era. The Great Gatsby took me to Singer Sargent. Then Tissot and Poussin and Bonnington and Constable. I became obsessed with academic painting and I’ve never been able to get it stopped. I’m often disappointed in myself, but not in my trip. “A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song.” (Maya Angelou)

This letter was originally published as “Hope” on August 22, 2006.

The Letters: Vol. 1 and 2, narrated by Dave Genn, are available for download on Amazon, here. Proceeds of sales contribute to the production of The Painter’s Keys.

Marie-Bashkirtseff-The-umbrella_1883“When artists slip the collar of convention, only then can they roam the forest of new found sites. With skill they may return with their visions for others to see in the code of their paintings. I do not understand the language or code of the birds but I do still love their songs. New visions need not be fully understood–only agreeable. I believe that true genius does not understand the word fear–instead their sails are set by hope of unseen shores.” (Todd Plough)

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20 Comments

  1. I have, as of a few years, not been as energetic in pursuit of my artistic expression; but when I read your letters, hope surfaces, and I find another reason to continue. Thank You!

  2. Richard Stark on

    Seems like Canada has become a little smaller nowadays. Currently, it is only 2090 miles from Vancouver to Toronto. I guess that’s progress.

  3. As in this wonderful letter, the less I truly understand about where this painting journey is taking me, the more I feel a sense of freedom, and a desire to find out where it all leads.
    Thanks for this very good read today!

    Karen

  4. I like the line about old-fashioned technology. While I do use my computer as a tool when i create my art, I prefer to use “hands-on” materials. So many opinions on what I should do with my work but most of them involve more effort than I’m willing to spend. I would rather it take wings of its own rather than me pushing in front of eyes. Most of the time it gets where its going. I hope a lot. : )

  5. Jonathan Wiltshire on

    “The fishermen know that the sea is dangerous and the storm terrible, but they have never found these dangers sufficient reasons for staying ashore.” (Vincent van Gogh)

  6. A one woman 3 month exhibit of my life’s work in a fancy museum setting begins tomorrow evening. People always ask many questions, “What inspired this?” “How long did this take you?” I will be thinking about this letter of Robert Genn’s. So often when I paint I invite the spirits of Van Gogh, Renoir, Monet, and others I admire who have slipped beyond the veil to visit and share with me their stories while I paint. It is a gift shared by my “unseen-ones” so many years ago. I invite only one of them at a time or they tend to interupt each other. They speak quickly and with a lot of excitement. It was free last time I checked! I will not be sharing that tomorrow night, too risky. :)

    • GEORGE REIS on

      Sharon, if you again are painting and want to share with a wonderful portraitist of the past…you might choose the superb artist Marie Bashkirtseff, that is shown in this Painters Keys,,,

      • Oh Yes George! So many artists with so many gifts still to share, whispering silently at us from beyond this world their many secrets! I will look at your Marie and see if she has anything yet for me. Perhaps I will not wait long.

  7. chad henry on

    Great letter. One teeny correction: Emily wrote “sings the tune” singular, not “tunes”. Thanks for this wonderful blog.

    chad

  8. Robin Christy Humelbaugh on

    I love this story. After a long, not very productive winter, it is like a breath of fresh air to this 80 yr old. My studio is cleaner and I have two shows and one very large commission to get done. This gives me hope.

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https://painterskeys.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/monique-jarry-art-salome_big-wpcf_149x300.jpgSalome’s salvation
mixed media
60 x 122 cm

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Monique Jarry is a Canadian and a graduate of the Ecole des Beaux-Arts de Montreal.
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