I need to explain the genesis of this painting. It began in my mind long before brush touched board—actually, at dusk the day before I got up from bed on a harried-to-be morning with my plein air materials set at the door ready to go. I would teach myself to paint in the light of day. A month or two, whatever it took of daily jaunts out into nature to record what I sat down to see—my eyes, arm and left hand making interpretive copy of what was already right there in front of me. I walked down to the lake like an intense van Gogh, but unlike him in so many ways as to render me the most simpleton fool tool to the greatest of painting’s idiots. I set up on the rocks and commenced painting the view. I wish I had a picture snapped behind me. What was coming out on the canvas looked very similar to this photo taken last year.
I was set up outside on a beautiful spring day intent on painting my wish to keep the rain at bay. There is an expression from days gone by that if you can throw a cat through the clouds, then it will not rain. Meaning that somebody’s great great aunt heard that if a cat can fit inside a patch of blue sky, then she would not have to carry her umbrella to the corn fair.
My attempt in the photo didn’t last much longer. Seconds after the picture was taken I brushed over the board in heavy grays and black. I didn’t feel good about painting what I saw. So I finished the day enjoying the outdoors with my family and friends, and went home thinking of weather folklore. The next day in the studio I set up the largest canvas available and for the next week, commenced painting with my thoughts and only what the canvas beheld in front of me. Here is the result:
I had no luck in the wild, but was thoroughly satisfied abiding by my own genius.
This post’s title painting was the fourth and final attempt to paint a scene I saw on Monday morning. While there, painting the view, I had three unremarkable failures. I could have titled them: Straining, Impotence, and Self-doubt. For the rest of the day I felt awful, a great sham, a delusion unto myself, and a guilty criminal to loved ones who believe in me. What a heavy load. I scribbled the board in grays and blacks, and laid off painting for a day in order to follow through with promised summer chores, thinking often about my failure. And then at some point yesterday afternoon, Matisse popped into my head. Rather, words once uttered by him. I paraphrase: “I don’t paint what I see as much as what is in my mind.” Then a mantra silently repeated over and over again while making dinner, visiting with the family, and finally settling down on a hot night.
Up in the morning, down to the studio. I could not paint fast enough the scene of a couple days ago. Plein air just doesn’t work out for me. Maybe nature is what it is and only some form of torture can come to those who attempt imitation. I would rather paint the cat with a red halo being thrown out to the clouds, than struggle with strokes that make me feel like I’m having a stroke. So finally I can say after many years time, in matters of plein air painting, I know what I do not know, and that is a milestone joy worth toasting a glass to. Here’s to you Mr. Matisse!