Messing Around With Paint

23 05 2012

The paints are squeezed out in enticing blobs of jumpy colour around the perimeter of my palette. The palette knives are scraped shiny clean and lined up bravely for service, as are the brushes: the rounds, the filberts, the brights, the flats.  I’m in my paint-splattered studio frock, poised  to fling the colour onto the canvas and chase it around in an exciting, mad, artistic scramble, when, all of a sudden, I remember I am a painter.  The realization ruins everything. 

There’s a lot of responsibility that comes with an artistic profession.  Painters are supposed to be visionaries, who reflect the thought of their generation.  Painters tell us who we are and where we are coming from.  A painter carries some great message or some ultimate word in her work that only she can say convincingly and authentically and in an original way.   Will not the canvasses resting on our easels today ultimately be enshrined in museums for posterity to ooh and ah over?

The weight of these thoughts crush me.  I am not a visionary.  I am a bucket-sloshing, weed-pulling, chicken-chasing, wood-stacking woman with a big family and a self-employed husband who works too hard.  My visions are of bed, maybe a night off from doing dishes, or from practicing violin with the kids.  Yet, I am a painter.

I live far in the woods with no electronics except a telephone and a $10 radio/CD player from Sally Ann.   I use the computer once a week at the Portico Timber Frames office, six kilometers away, that is, if the shop guys are not using it.   I hate loud noise, flashing pictures and speed.  I find movies too violent and the changing pictures make me dizzy.  I watch the sunset instead, and the way it gilds all the treetops on the western shore.  Would you really want to choose me to reflect the thought of my generation?  Yet, I am a painter.

The great  word or message that I have to give the world probably would be simply and practically, “Remember your manners and no more than two cookies.”  I can’t help it. It comes from decades of parenting.  Can you imagine if every one of my paintings had that practical message encrypted on them?  Why, I’d be worse off than Van Gogh who only sold one painting in his lifetime, and that was to his own brother, Theo.  I’d never make that first sale and certainly not to my brother who is an avant-guard sculptor. 

Yet, I am a painter even without all the lofty visions, and contemporary knowledge and insight.    I’ll never sit beside Emily Carr and Gagnon in Ken Thompson’s collection of Canadian art.  Does that really matter?  It used to, but at 52, I’m just grateful for the time that I get to stand in silence in front of my canvas and mix the cobalt, the green gold and the alizarin crimson.  I am still amazed and grateful when the shapes just slide effortlessly into place to create a poignant landscape.   Forget for now all the moral responsibilities and obligations to represent my generation for the sake of posterity. Today, I am just a middle-aged woman who loves to mess around with paint, without any strings attached.  

Please, if you find me in front of a canvas, don’t remind me that I am a painter.