Monday, October 20, 2008

Six Unremarkable Things about Me

Laura, the dream-loving therapist of From the Couch, has tagged me with a meme. I'm supposed to divulge six unremarkable, ho-hum things about me. Easy.

Here goes:

1. At the age of 1 1/2 I ran away to join the circus.

2. My newfound family was just your average family. Loving. Somewhat dull. They used to say that Uncle Roscoe had been fired from one too many cannons. I always wondered what that meant.

3. Save for an unfortunate incident involving an irate bearded lady, a cotton candy machine, and my upper torso, it was an uneventful childhood. I emerged virtually unscathed. (I stand before you today a typical menopausal woman.)

4. I spend my days in recollection. One of my sweetest memories is that of the day I met my future husband. It was love at first sight...
...of those clown pants.

5. We had two rather ordinary children....

...who shared a penchant for impersonating Cherokee Indians...

and bringing home stray animals.

6. To this day, I enjoy simple pleasures. Friends. Family. Walks in the countryside. I now live in the high desert of New Mexico,

a sparsely inhabited, unremarkable place where the license plates say Land of Enchantment.

Go figure.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Marie Larson 1926-2008: A Legacy of Light and Shadow

"Aunt Marie is one of those people that just does everything perfect!" 8-year-old Oakley was beside himself with delight. Marie Larson, Bennie's aunt, had just moved to New Mexico from Michigan and had purchased a modest little condo in Albuquerque. She had invited us for New Year's Day dinner and had made an Oakley-friendly meal--roast beef, baked potatoes, green beans. Plus her condo was such an interesting place to be. It had nice tall ceilings with vigas, and saltillo tile floors, and for those places that were lacking in architectural charm, Marie had shopped salvage stores for corbels and mounted them in doorways and beside the kitchen cabinets. Although the art this dazzling painter made was very much classic representational, she had an eye for the "found" art object, and her walls were decorated with a vintage snowshoe and sled. Her furnishings were a mixture of simple comfortable contemporary seating and dark walnut antiques, set off by elegant candlesticks and a big jar of her own paintbrushes. We all laughed at Oakley's comment, understanding immediately the truth of it.

Marie's relationships with some of her family members will be remembered as less than perfect. She and her husband divorced rather bitterly when the children were small and apparently, she never completely recovered from the hurt of it. According to her children, she wasn't the perfect picture of the nurturing mother. She freely discussed the perhaps exaggerated shortcomings of their dad in their presence, and sometimes these shortcomings she applied to the entire male sex. She wrote off men as romantic partners as a waste of her time. It was a way of simplifying her life raising two children on her own in the 60s. It was not unlike the way she distilled a composition into the essentials of light and shadow.

She had a gift for portraying the human figure and face. She inevitably tapped into her models' vulnerability and sadness. It was as though the sadness at her own core opened a door into the hearts of her subjects.

She preferred to paint and draw rather than to cook, and at an early age the children learned to get their own meals. Bennie remembers his cousin Paul reporting long afternoons spent as his mom's captive model.

The Marie that Oakley and Flannery and I knew was the more public Marie known by her art students. A Marie who laughed. A Marie who offered encouragement. Once we drove down to Marie's place on the evening of July 4. I made food and we grilled steaks on her patio; afterwards we watched the fireworks from there. Although whatever food I brought was so simple I don't even remember it, Marie said, "Well, I just don't see how you have the time to work and cook." She always expressed appreciation for simple gestures. And as recently as this past spring, I received an email from a former student who was trying desperately to track her down. She wanted to visit her and catch up. (I have met other students of hers, some of whom have become clients of our gallery, people on whose lives she had a dramatic and positive impact.) By that time, however, Marie had moved back to the Midwest to be closer to her children and was living in an assisted living facility. Yesterday she quietly passed on with them nearby. Paul says it was a beautiful fall day and a feeling of peace pervaded the room.

I believe the last time I spoke with Marie it was the occasion of one of her last outings after a serious heart attack. Oxygen deprivation had left her with on-and-off memory loss and she had become quite frail. Soon she would be returning to the Midwest. Paul had come out from Chicago, and he and Marie met Bennie and me at a restaurant. I'd just had my hair cut and one recalcitrant curl kept falling over my forehead. The first thing Marie said to me: "There was a little girl who had a little curl right in the middle of her forehead. When she was good, she was very, very good. But when she was bad she was horrid." We all laughed and had a delightful meal.

I treasure that memory of Marie's remark. It does apply to all of us. We are all part good/part horrid. We can hope that our legacy of good will outweigh the horrid. I believe that in Marie's case that is very much the case. Marie's artful hand fashioned a life pared down to the luminous essentials. And that's good.

(Note: All paintings and drawings in this post are the work of Marie Larson.)

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Return of the Prodigal Blogger

Return of the Prodigal Son, Rembrandt van Rijn
oil on canvas, 262 x 206 cm.
Hermitage, St. Petersburg

I know. I know. I've been a bad blogger. I ran away for better than two weeks and didn't so much as leave a note. Thank you for your notes, however. I'm touched by your concern, and in some cases, your gentle chiding. One blogger assumed I was on a top-secret mission with the U.S. government. OK. You were somewhat close. I've been coaching Sarah Palin on foreign policy. Did you happen to catch that brilliant performance with Katie Couric?

Of course I'm joking. I was actually in Paris observing my painting "Heart's Destiny" being installed in the dazlling new contemporary wing of the Louvre.

Looks great doesn't it? I'm not too keen on the ostentatious frame, but what the hey, it's the Louvre, right?

You don't buy that either? Seriously, I've been doing what I usually do when I disappear from Blogland. I've been holed up in my studio, doing battle with the canvas. And Bennie, God love him, has been selling them faster than I can produce. Even "Heart's Destiny," which I blogged about in late April, is finally being shipped, not to the Louvre, but to a collector in Durham, North Carolina, an employee of Duke University. If you happened to have read my earlier post, you may recall that I said the painting was "my painted acknowledgment of the way our lives are often altered for the better when we follow our heart’s urgings." Although I didn't meet the buyer of this painting, she left me a very kind note telling me she was "thrilled" to own my work. I was very attached to this particular painting--it had great emotional resonance for me. As I'd told another blogger, another artist, I was afraid I had jinxed the painting's sale by own desire to continue to look at it. I'd actually felt slightly sad on seeing Bennie take it down to prepare it for shipment.

And then yesterday I had the opportunity to speak with the buyer on the phone about a logistical matter regarding the shipping. At that time she told me she had cried when viewing the painting. (Bennie had mentioned this. I just didn't quite grasp it until I spoke with her personally.) It seems she is in a difficult time of transition in her personal life and "Heart's Destiny" simply spoke to her about her own heart's destiny. And it did that when she first stood before the painting and regarded its surfaces, before she knew its title had anything to do with hearts or destinies. As I have written before, there is such an inevitability in the process by which a painting comes to reside with the right person. Such exchanges are what keep me going back into the studio.

And, equally thrilling for me was the placement of "Desert Spirits" in the permanent collection of MOMA in New York.

OK, you're on to me. I'm a very poor liar. Truth be told, "Desert Spirits" is now residing in a lovely home in Las Cruces, New Mexico. A home in which I am invited to visit and stay in the guest room, with the understanding that it is unfinished due to the owners' recurring purchases of my art. "I'll sleep on the floor," I said.

It is this particular couple's third acquisition from me, and they told me my painting would be replacing a series of original Dali lithographs, which would remain in the room, only on an opposite wall. This I'm not joking about. They actually laughed and said, "Now, you can tell people your art has replaced Salvador Dali's."

So that's what I'm doing now: I am telling you: My art has replaced Salvador Dali's! And I trust you are rightfully impressed. I know I am. I'm impressed, again and again, by the faith and generosity of those rare souls who purchase art at whatever level is affordable to them. I am including those who buy from the toniest showplace in Manhattan, those who buy from smaller galleries such as Bennie's and mine, those who buy from art fairs and flea markets and their next door neighbor. People who invest in hand-made things that have no function other than as a resting place for tired eyes--these people are unusual. I mean, you can't climb behind the wheel of a painting or a sculpture or a piece of pottery, and drive it down the freeway, cutting off those you want to impress with your flashiness. Art is much more personal than that. It seldom impresses anyone other than the buyer.

Transactions like this, like so many things, good and bad, like breakdowns in home appliances even, tend to come in threes. Last, but no less exciting for me, Monique, my brilliant French economist, whom I wrote about this past summer, chose to purchase a second painting from me.

Flow, acrylic on canvas, 48" x 48"
private collection, Arlington, Virginia

Monique called me when her painting arrived. In that lovely French accent she said, "Eet eez more beautiful than I imagined. Even my 5-year-old gasped when I unwrapped it."

The 5-year-old and the 7-year-old were having a grand time stomping on the bubble wrap too. I heard the mini-explosions in the background, the whoops of delight bouncing off the walls. Monique was shouting, "You weel go to bed at 5:15 EEF you don't deseest in making that racket!"

"Not you, San! Theez eerascible keeds!"

Dear friends, I hope you will forgive my prodigal disappearance. I am happy to be back.

Shall we kill the fatted calf?

Shall we stretch a colossal sheet of bubble wrap from one end of cyberspace to the other? Shall we dance on it till it explodes?

Shall we go with the flow?