I think I told my readers this before, but my late husband, a Clinical Psychologist, once remarked that the reason I painted people so much was because I was an only child and wanted company. His remark came back to me on a recent snowbound day when I went into my studio and found myself surrounded by a half -dozen colorful characters. Plenty of company, I’m happy to say, all chattering away. Last week I talked about Brueghel’s “Wimmelbilder” paintings, “swarming with people” and couldn’t help but wonder if Brueghel had been an “only child.”
Today is another cold and miserable day and my driveway is covered with ice. My pathetic attempt to put kitty litter on it (no ice-melt to be found anywhere) has resulted in a bigger mess. A slippery, clay-like substance now coats the ice, making matters even worse. I may not get out until April. But that’s ok; I have two rolls of canvas in my studio and plenty of paint. This is as important to me as having milk and bread in the fridge. And as for company, I have all those characters on my studio wall. I put up a large piece of canvas, stain it with umber, take a piece of charcoal, and voila, I’m not alone!.
Once I can get out, however, I will head straight to Curley’s Diner at Columbus Park for some real-live company. Upon arrival, I will be filled in on all that has happened since my last visit: who is getting divorced, is on drugs, pregnant, in the hospital, arrested. Between the poets who meet on Tuesday nights and the “regulars” who hang out during the day, there is plenty to gossip about. The waitresses alone make for a book; the politicians and lawyers, another. I’ve never been there after midnight, but I understand there’s an entirely different crowd then, even more colorful.
But since this is an artist’s blog, let’s talk about the diner from that point of view. Of course, when I refer to Curley’s, it’s not just that specific place. The world is filled with “Curley’s” and every neighborhood has its own. It is a universal metaphor for a home away from home, and, for an artist or a writer, an endless source of ideas. My theory about famous writers is that one of the reasons they eventually run dry is that they can no longer get material from ordinary hangouts like Curley’s; they become “too special” to take part in real life.
Do I ever sketch when I’m there? (there’s no shortage of material) Or, surreptitiously photograph the interesting crowd? I’ve tried many times, but here’s what happens: No matter how colorful my subjects are in real life, they refuse to be captured; the photos and the sketches turn out flat and boring. I have no idea why. I’ll show you them if you don’t believe me. On the other hand, when I stand in front of a canvas and conjure people up, they come to life. It’s like they need to pass through the filter of my subconscious and the camera and the sketchpad only get in the way.
Of course, if you feel like stopping by, I do enjoy real company. I will be happy to make you a cup of coffee and discuss art and life. And by the way, many people I know with siblings would prefer to have been an ‘only child.’