Monday, December 29, 2008

The Portrait

Christmas 2008

Snow. Yep, we had a white Christmas. Definitely a white Christmas – as did most of North America. Some would say it was a little too white, but I would never say that. I love the snow. No matter how many times I get stuck, and no matter how cold I get, I still love it. I do prefer that the temps stay in the low to mid twenties, though.

Bren had to work on Christmas morning (she left at around 3a.m. as usual). We opened stockings before she left and had such a good time. I just enjoyed the time that she was gone by working on some projects, decorating packages and such.
I didn’t intend on staying up the entire time that she was gone, as I had to leave for work at 9 p.m., but, well, as usual, I got caught up in what I was doing and was doing some artwork when Bren came back through the door at around 1 p.m.
We headed over to Bren’s folks’ place for Christmas dinner. Marge made a beautiful meal, as always … all the trimmings, wonderful and filling. Unfortunately, I found myself dazed and muddle-headed about halfway through dinner. It’s funny, some people get grumpy and irritable when they get overly tired, I just start to shut down. I shouldn’t even be allowed in public if I’ve gone too long without sleep. I probably make no sense to anyone around me, and I can’t concentrate enough to know if I am making any sense at all. Mostly, though, I’m quiet. The tryptophan in the turkey (yes, I took a break from my vegetarian ways to quaff some foul), and the wine probably didn’t help matters much, but, all in all, I was feeling comfortable in my fuzzy-headed way.
We opened gifts after dinner. Some really wonderful things … but most wonderful of all was the gift that I received from Del. If you don’t know, Del is Brenda’s father. He’s by far the best painter that I’ve ever had the privilege to know – bar none. How I got lucky enough to be with a girl who has a father that’s a master painter, I’ll never know. One of the coolest things about Del, though, is that he’s such a great guy, very unassuming, gracious, and down to earth. He and I clicked right away and I’m proud to call him my friend.
When I opened the gift from Del I was not prepared. Emotions rushed over me. I didn’t know what to say. Predictably, I tried to make a joke to soften my emotions. There I was looking at a portrait of me … done so well that it was astonishing. “Who’s this ugly guy?” I said … in truth thinking that he really caught the best part of me.
Like many other artists, I have probably done a couple hundred self-portraits … ink, pencil, charcoal, oil ….whatever … it's not a solipsistic thing, really, it's more than that ... and it's less than that. Artists use the self portrait as a way to search inside themselves, to learn what's inside as well as what's outside. It's also as simple as that they tend to sit still for themselves where some modles have a tough time. In all of my questing to reach in, I don't think that I’ve ever captured the essence of “me” the way that Del has in this stunning little painting.
So, there I sat, like a doink, not really knowing what to do or say. Del had taken the time to do a painting for me … and make a gorgeous frame to go with it. I was honored and humbled. I was trying not to make too big of a deal out of it so that I didn’t make Del uncomfortable, and I was afraid that I would get all choked up. I, honestly, couldn’t function well at all. I asked if my beard were really that grey – knowing full well that it was … that he had captured it perfectly.
Del’s style is one that I have been able to see in my mind for some years in a way … something that I’ve been striving for but had no way of knowing how to go about getting. In my early days as a painter, I was smitten with Rembrandt and then with Sargent. I always thought that there must be a way to capture the drama and light of a Rembrandt with the colour and flair of a Sargent. I think that Del has done that.
In the last three years (almost) that I’ve known Del, I’ve been able to see him work and learn from him slowly … and I feel that I’ve made some progress, but, looking at the portrait of me on Christmas day, I was blown away. I don’t even know how to describe it. Saying that it’s a wonderful blend of the afore mentioned masters, doesn’t really do it. It’s so much more than that, because it’s got the unmistakable touch of Del Gish … his flair with colour and his subtle strokes juxtaposed and blended to create something that even photos cannot.
Another touching thing about the work is the way that he signed it: “Jack, 2008, Del”; a personal and familiar touch.

I hope to learn a lot from studying this painting ... and under the toutalage of Del in the next hundred or so years (that's how long I'll need to catch up with him!).
If ever I’m noted in the annals of Art history, it will be as a side note to Del, I’m sure. I can live with that.

Sunday, December 7, 2008


Last Friday, 5 December '08 was “First Friday Art Walk” again, when all of the galleries in town open their doors later in the evening so that the public can wander from one to the next and enjoy snacks, art, and interact with the artists.
As has become my habit, I drove downtown early in the morning when I got off of work. It was drizzling rain and the temps hovered around the freezing mark, making driving just a little tricky, but I had little problem getting there without incident.
My mood, this time, was one of levity mixed with weariness. Doing things during the day, sometimes, really wears me out. I had slept well the day before but not most of the rest of the early week. Knowing that today didn’t bode well for sleep, made more of a psychological effect on me than anything.
I brought along with me four new pieces to put up – well, two had been up a long time ago and two were fresh works. I kicked off my shoes and reveled in the quietness of the morning. I love the gallery when it’s just me and the work – it’s like being in a library when no one is around. There’s a certain peace that takes me back to museums, libraries, and the deep forest.
Deciding what to leave in and what to take down is always a bitter-sweet thing. I have a difficult time thinking of this as a business somehow. I haven’t sold anything in a couple of months but I’ve been happy showing my etchings and other stuff that nobody ever really gets to observe. Like I’ve said before; the gallery thing is not really an avenue for me to make a lot of money, it’s a place for me to make contacts and to show my work, rather than have it hanging on my own walls or leaning against the book shelf in my studio.
I was having fun rearranging things when I noticed that it had already been forty-five minutes. I had only plugged the meter for an hour, thinking that, since I only had four paintings to hang, it wouldn’t take long. So I headed for the door, passing my jacket on the way. I parked close, so I decided not to grab it.
Well, you’ve guessed it by now. Yep, I locked myself out of the gallery. Dough!
Fortunately for me, the Brooklyn Deli people were next door doing their prep work and called the landlord for me. So, after re-plugging the meter, I sat on the stairs that lead down to the gallery and laughed at myself. It was only about fifteen minutes before the landlord showed up and let me in.
It was a few minutes after I had returned that one of the other gallery members showed up to change a few of his pieces too. Dang. I asked him where the heck he was half an hour ago.
He left just as I was finishing up my rearranging and I got to enjoy the feeling of having my artwork hanging in yet another showing. I sat down in one of the arm chairs and sipped my drink – wishing that it could be coffee, but knowing that it couldn’t because I would be going to bed as soon as I made it home.
I think that this is one of the most enjoyable times as an artist, really; just sitting back and taking it all in without the pressures of producing or having others there looking at the work – just being in harmony with the expressions that one has done.
With other errands that I had to run in the morning, I was only able to get about three and a half hours sleep before having to get up and go back to the gallery at five. During the evening, though, I made a few connections and was able to talk with several people who were genuinely interested in the work. And, just before I had to go home to take a pre-work nap, someone bought one of my small oils. It’s a still life - Eggplant and Pomegranates. It’s one that I did in Del’s studio last fall.
I drove home on icy roads feeling very good about things. It wasn’t really the sale of the painting. That did feel nice, but it was the fact that I am out there trying – making connections, letting the world see what I do. It’s a big step for me and I’m not always comfortable with it, but I’m less comfortable with finishing a painting for it to wind up in the closet.