Sunday, January 4, 2009

A Dime A Dozen: The Flower Painter Turns

A Dime A Dozen

For 5 yrs now I’ve been painting flowers. Watercolorists who paint flowers, some might say, are a dime a dozen. Despite my attempts at landscapes and still life and figures, “He paints flowers” is the phrase that clings to me and makes me blush, the same way being introduced as “the dancer” made me blush when a teenager. “Enough with the flowers!” my cousin scolded while driving me and Jascha to the airport a year ago. “Paint some dragons, why don’t you?” I brooded over that comment for the next two weeks on the ship to and from Hawaii and visualized in my sketchbook/journal a huge foot stomping on flower beds with the caption “No More Flowers.” And, quite frankly, I brooded over it in one way or another for the next 10 months. In August, I spent an hour discussing the *painting flowers* issue with artist, Jamie Treadwell [] at the family clambake in Maine. By that time I was already turning and the question “Why do I paint” was getting louder and louder.

“Why do I paint?” isn’t really a new question. Every student of art will at some point be asked to think about the “why” of it. And, I have certainly been true to form in “Not Knowing” the answer. It was easy to ask my theatre students “Why do you say that? What do you want?” regarding a character they were playing in a scene. It’s always easy to ask. It’s much harder to answer. Why do I paint? Maybe it’s a *mystery* and as Sister Anita Marie informed me 55 yrs ago, I’ll never really understand even if I really think I do.

Living a life in which a central theme of “Not knowing” – that is, having a mystery in front of oneself at all times- is more interesting (though more unsettling) than always having the answer in hand. That mystery is what keeps me focused.

I think I’ve said from the beginning that I paint in order to understand that which I do not know. Even the most familiar flower will present me with a turn in line, or color, or texture that cracks my expectations. So there is nothing that I attempt to paint that I really “know.” Everything I address has some element of my favored view of “not knowing” in it. Perhaps I paint to find some answers, but I may be discovering that it is the question that holds the most interest.

This brings me to today’s painting, “A Dime a Dozen” – Acrylic on paper, 15x22.
The title is a direct quote in response to a question that I, standing in my tap shoes, asked my dance teacher many decades ago. He said, “Hoofers are a dime a dozen.” First he had to explain to me what a "hoofer" was (tap dancer) and then what the phrase “a dime a dozen” meant (so plentiful that they are cheap). Somehow it seemed an appropriate title for this painting which seems a detour from my usual path. The view of the audience from behind the proscenium, the stage lights, and the dancers surprised me as they emerged from the paper with a certain amount of ease and confidence and familiarity. I carved and then buried the notation for some tap steps into the stage floor and into the backstage air. “A Dime a Dozen” seems an appropriate title for my turning away from the blush of painting flowers and turning or should I say re-turning to the blush of dancing to my own tune.