Flashback: An Experience Painting


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couple of years back, I started the practice of taking digital pics of my paintings at the end of each sitting, and emailing them out to a few friends. Sometimes I included a little story about one thing or the other that had transpired while I was out with my paints. I almost always paint “en plein air,” outside in beautiful places, and there’s something about that scene that seems to really speak to people, that tends to delight, surprise, or inspire them. So they stick around and watch, or they visit for a while. All kinds of people of every age, from every walk of life and many different countries, from gang members to retirees to mystics to tourists, or all of the above, you name it. Those that do engage in conversation tend to speak so intimately it’s as if we’ve known each other always. They sometimes voice to me of their private visions, share the dreams closest to their hearts. All of which then most definitely becomes part of the art, somehow energetically “woven in” to the process.

I had one such great encounter while working on a painting out on Key Biscayne a couple of years ago. The place could not mean more to me, I have a definite love “thang” with Biscayne Bay. It is just so big, so blue, so beautiful. Plus, we go way back; my brothers and I spent large chunks of our youth, and some of our happiest times, exploring and generally carrying on in its waters. We used to call her “Mother Bay.” So I was sitting alongside the bike path, out by Hobie Beach. The place looks like this:

This painting would eventually be called “Biscayne Day!” Which is interesting, considering that I started out with the canvas as a night painting:

So one beautiful winter day I was sitting there painting, and I could feel that someone had stopped a little ways away, and was watching me work. After a while I turned around, and saw a young blond guy astride and leaning forward on his bicycle, just sort of grinning. His eyes kind of twinkled. I said “Hi” and turned back to paint.

“Looks like you’re having quite an experience there,” he said. “Yeah,” I paused, a wet paintbrush in my hand. “Tell you the truth,” I said “I never really have any idea what’s gonna come out when I start on a painting.” I’ve always loved Picasso’s quote to the effect that “An artist should have some idea of what he wants to do when he sits down to paint, but only some idea.” That has always rung true. The realm of true power, real and abundant possibilities, always exists just a little beyond our reach. Or (and here’s the key): at least our known reach.

So the guy says “Well when you think about it, it’s not really you that’s doing the painting.” I was stunned. I stopped in my tracks, turned back around. He just sat there, smiling like the love child of Mona Lisa and the Buddha. I stood up and walked over to him, stood right in front of him, and put my hand on his arm, and said “You know what? I love you for saying that. That is just so true.” And no one had ever said anything like that to me, before.

That’s all, for now.

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