In 1983 I was the sales director of a large, rather commercial gallery at Union Square in San Francisco. We sold lots of slick limited-edition serigraphs by famous artists. Every evening when I got off work, I’d walk by the Academy of Art College. I enjoyed looking in the windows, which displayed the work of the students. Often the work was a little raw and unfinished. It was usually on canvas, and I loved looking at the surfaces of the paintings, which revealed, as they say, “the hand of the artist.” There were visible brushstrokes and little mounds of dried paint. So unlike the perfect, museum-mounted products under glass that I sold all day.
One day a large grayish canvas depicting some kind of canine creatures made me stop. What were these? Dogs? Although there was some blue pigment here and there, the overall impression was muddy gray. The perspective was odd. One of the dogs had its rear in the air. One of my mother's terms popped into my mind. Engagingly ugly. Something about this painting held my attention. Every day I found myself stopping and looking at this canvas. The head of the dog with its rear in the air disappeared into... what? A kind of gray rectangle, which suggested a subterranean passage. Were these prairie dogs?
Then one day the painting disappeared from the window. Oh well, I thought, it was odd while it lasted. For the next few days I found myself walking on the opposite side of the street from the art college. I was trying to avoid the window, now devoid of the gray dogs. Despite myself, I would look longingly across the street, expecting the dog painting to come back. A cable car, crammed with tourists, ground its way up Powell Street, its bell ringing in my ears. That celebratory sound always lifted my spirits, but today I was sad. I trudged up Powell, feeling foolish for being sad and nostalgic over a painting I hadn't even seen up close. My common sense said...There will be other, better paintings...
I nevertheless found myself calling the college gallery one afternoon. What had happened to the large gray painting of canines? I inquired.
“Ohhh!” an enthusiastic female voice responded, “You’re talking about Cindy’s ‘Blue Wolves.'"
“So what happened? Did somebody buy the gray dogs? I mean...the blue wolves?"
“Oh no, it was part of our B.F.A. exhibition, which came down last week, and Cindy took it home with her. Why don’t I give you her phone number?”
Well, that was easy.
And so I purchased my first original work of art. I went to Cindy’s apartment in Bernal Heights and paid her the asking price of $300--even in those days that was pretty reasonable, but hefty enough to carry a certain significance for both of us. Even Cindy's art professor husband regarded this as a significant transaction. He helped me strap the six-foot canvas to the top of a friend’s Datsun and we drove it across town, where I would hang it in my tiny efficiency apartment overlooking the financial district. It gave my space what the decorators call “scale.” My apartment grew visually. What had been a twenty-by-fifteen-foot rectangle dominated by a view of the apartment building across the street, became a twenty-by-fifteen-foot space commanded by an expanse of textured canvas. Thanks to the abundant natural light provided by the windows, the blue surrounding the wolves jumped out from the shadows and gave the entire room a dreamy, soft-tinted, blue aspect. What I didn’t know was that this little purchase was already beginning to give my life a kind of “scale.”
I didn’t know that, even as my friend and I gingerly transported “Blue Wolves” up and down the hills of the San Francisco neighborhoods between Cindy’s home and mine, my administrative assistant at the gallery was looking dreamily into the eyes of her boyfriend and deciding to travel to Europe with him. The next morning she resigned from her job. On an impulse I called the young artist Cindy and asked her if she would like a part-time job. She already had a job but suggested her friend Leslie, a graduate student. Leslie took the job and was great. Leslie introduced me to her friend Bennie.
“You’ll like him,” she said. “He eats that offbeat Southern food, just like you do."
Bennie visited me in my efficiency apartment, and we sat under the painting "Blue Wolves." I looked into Bennie’s blue eyes. I was falling in love. He liked my poetry and he liked my black-eyed peas. Ours was a karmic connection set in motion by our Southern ancestors. Like a big pot of turnip greens that had been simmering for generations in some invisible, cosmic kitchen. It was time to eat. Bennie looked into my eyes and said he saw “the wolf." He too was falling in love. Together we watched the sunset reflected in the windows of the apartment building across the street.
I started going to punk clubs with names like The Sound of Music to hear Bennie’s band play. Bennie went to Macy’s to buy some ties. He got a job in a competing gallery. He too had a knack for selling art and became the sales director of his gallery. We saved our sales commissions. We opened our own gallery on Union Street, an elegant shopping district sandwiched between Pacific Heights and the Marina. It was high-rent but not staggering-rent as was Union Square. We discovered there was a market for paintings that revealed “the hand of the artist." We married...Ten months later our daughter was born...
27 months after that we had a son...
And so on...
...We now sell paintings in New Mexico. Through the years our customers have shared their own stories with us, stories of how the paintings they've bought have altered the scale of their lives, changing them in surprising ways. What's more, I took up painting several years ago. My latest painting, "Heart's Destiny," at the top of this post, is my painted acknowledgment of the way our destinies seem to be altered for the better when we listen to the urgings of our heart. And "Blue Wolves"? It still hangs in a place of honor in our home. People visit us and sometimes they comment on the painting.
“Hey, those gray coyotes are cool,” they say.