Yesterday evening I made an attempt at writing something, anything, to in some way explain myself. A new website design has presented me with a blog function, and I feel game to the possibility it presents. It seemed necessary to introduce things somehow. But, in fact, there simply wasn’t much use in writing, not that way. At the end of an hour everything was struck through.
A bit later, working, I look up. My studio is a small room in our small house, and it is crowded with supplies, with overfull bookshelves, and art on all but one wall. Now I realize that every piece on one of those three art-lined walls is severely cooked. These aren’t my works—that’s what the fourth wall is for—but works I have acquired over the years. I acquired them because I love them and feel a need to care for them. I really ought to level them, I think. And returning my eyes to my work I see that it too has gotten off-kilter. Light playing across the wet surface reveals that things are not going smoothly. This will also have to be leveled.
The piece I’m working on wants very flat color. There is a stillness in its need for flatness. The colors and the space more or less between the colors are, hopefully, all the more consequential for this stillness.
There’s a lot of watching paint dry, when I have the time to sit with it. I like this time of the work. Waiting, I open Leopardi’s Zibaldone at random to a passage describing the pleasure in swiftness, and in swiftness being related to speed. This fills me with apprehension. Living nearly two-hundred years later I find myself less pleased with and more wary of speed. But Leopardi is not wrong. In painting there is real delight in, say, Karel Appel’s frenetic attacks on the canvas, as though entirely guided by instinct and driven by pure animal impulse. I look at my own work and in this moment do not know what to make of it. This is not because of comparison I am making to another artist, but because of a specific quality I have a sudden need to consider. In his entry Leopardi notes he is referencing an earlier thought. I turn back to it. It doesn’t help, but the next entry catches my eye. Citing Periander, Leopardi gives the dictum, “Everything is exercise.” The painting lying before me is still becoming the thing that it is. It is time to get back to work. The thin layer just applied is now dry. I sand it, brush the dust away, and begin applying another coat. This time it works. Flatness is achieved. How did I do it? With just the right brush load and just the right amount of pressure, I moved with enough speed.
Soon I will climb a ladder, spirit level in hand, to straighten out a few pictures. When I come back down I will add another thin layer to this flat little crimson disk. Then for a moment I will sit and watch the paint dry. The hummingbird is also a wild animal.