Stephen Paints a Picture – Part Nineteen

December 26, 2013

7 September 2013

Stephen Scott arrived at my place after Saturday morning’s farmers market, and having had our, now traditional, Friday night lobster dinner and was keen to get to work on our portrait project although we had worked the day before, “I’ve been thinking about it and I do know what art is about,” he announced. “Do tell?”, I said. “It’s about being true to yourself, not following trends and always being behind,” he said. “Did all of this come from last night’s two bottles of wine?” “Don’t be such a shit. I’m serious.”

palette and portrait 7SeptHe started working on the first oil sketch, changing the shirt colour from red and blue to yellow, the colour of the shirt I was wearing today. We were talking about our idea of a new method of marketing his work and, perhaps, some other artists that we both knew using technology to reach a world wide market. “How do you think we should choose the artists?” I asked. “We need to start small. No more than three or four people,” he answered, “people we both know.”

“Granted. I think that it’s important that they can all get along, know each other. At least at the start. More important than everyone painting alike. They don’t all have to be realists, just good,” I said.

“A group of artists can be messy. Too many egos getting in the way,” he said.

“That’s why it’s important that you have somebody riding herd and, in this case, that would be me, but and it’s a very big but; the artists have to be in charge. It’s me working for the artists, not the other way around.”

“That’s a tall order,” he said, “rather like the chickens being in charge of the fox.”

“What I’m thinking is a co-op. There are a lot of co-op models around. The members hire a professional manager who runs the business, but the business belongs to the members,” I said.

“Sounds a little too idealistic to me,” he said.

“I think that it can be done, but it requires a lot of thought. It’s something we can work on over the winter. Surely there’s a way. It’s got to be better than what’s going on now.”

“OK, let’s leave it for now and concentrate on this damn painting.”

Playing with his brush, Stephen added, somewhat remorsefully, “Artists are a self-indulgent lot.” “And what do you mean by that? If they weren’t they wouldn’t be making art, they would be doing something useful like selling insurance.” “Very funny, I was being serious. Artists are using their art to communicate and make contact.” “Contact with who?” “People like you, stupid.” I thought that the painting and the conversation were going along swimmingly. We had three oil sketches on the go and by going back and forth between them, they were all, to my mind, looking pretty good, but I knew that Stephen had his doubts. He always has doubts and that’s what makes him a good painter. “Sooner or later, it should all come together,” he muttered. I knew that somewhere in his mind he a had a good idea what the final product would look like. It’s the same with writing. I know what I want, if only I can get the words to co-operate. There are in my head somewhere, I just have to spit them out.

“Paintings speak for themselves. Take cave art, we don’t know who did them, or why, and we don’t care. The images just are. I don’t like to get in the way of my art,” he said.

“You’ve got a point, but for a painting to be a painting, somebody got to paint it. I agree that I would rather look at a painting than read an artist’s statement.”

“Artist’s statements are usually the product of an art school education,” he said.

“We both should know as we both went to art school and I taught you. Actually, I don’t seem to remember writing one as an undergraduate, but that was fifty years ago. I didn’t do much in art school then, but paint and draw. Did do a piece of shit writing in grad school, though, for my defence.’’

We were listening to Bizet’s Carmen on the radio, he was drinking coffee and painting and I was drinking coffee and trying to pose and take notes all at the same time. “I’m going to miss these sessions,” he said, “but I’ve got to get back to Fredericton and Sophie (his wife) before she forgets about me.” “We’ve got a couple more days to get some work in. Then I’ve got to write all of the posts. I’m going to try to keep up the schedule of one every week on Wednesday mornings. Shit, that should take us to the end of the year.”

“My next step would be a re-invention of my work.” Stephen remarked, seemingly out of nowhere.

“That’s interesting as I’m trying to re-invent myself as well after all those years in the wilderness of local politics. In my case, it’s going back to where I was, both as a writer and photographer.”

“Me? I think that there is a lot of bad landscape painting out there and I’m not sure that I want do continue in that vein.”

“I keep telling you, don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater. You have a nature gift for landscape.”

“Good landscape painting is all about mood, but that’s not enough,” he said

“And what would be enough?”

“I’m not exactly sure, but good art has to speak its own language.”

“You know,” I said, “I’m not really sure who we should be speaking to. I mean that there are a lot of bad people who like good art and good people who don’t give a fuck about art.”

“Perhaps, we should start with ourselves. If we can’t talk to each other as artists, I doubt if anyone else would give a damn,” he said.

“You do have a good point, you know, I am all in favour of art for art’s sake and artist’s artists, but you can’t ignore the viewer. I mean, we need a public, eh?”

“I’m not suggesting that we don’t, only that there is a sub-text to art that’s mostly invisible to non-artists.”

“It’s the visible stuff that sells, my son,” I answered.

“I’m not sure of that, look at all the Postmodern crap that seems to move at art fairs and the like. People with a lots money are buying the emperor’s new clothes and what could more invisible than that?”

“Yes, I have seen some high priced rocks and dirty underwear passing as art, but what they’re buying is status or laundering their ill-gotten money. Actually maybe they are just plain stupid.”

“Would that we could find the way to cash in with these people,” he said.

“Not a chance and, besides, what you do still takes too much time. Look, we’ve spent two months and, god knows, how many sittings and still haven’t got to where you want to be.”

“What I want right now is a beer. Let’s stop for today and head on down to Ducky’s,” he said, putting down his brush, “It hasn’t been a bad day’s work.”

© Virgil Hammock, Sackville NB Canada, Monday, December 23, 2013.

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