Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Summertime Improvisation

oil on canvas
18" x 24"

Two words—chipseal.

I left a pair of shoes on the side of the road in Mineral...stepped right out of them while backing up for a better look at the picture above.  If you can pry them free, they're yours.

Monday, July 22, 2019

oil on canvas
9" x 12"

It ain't pretty, but it's one of my favorites from the Bloomfield painting adventure.

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Friday, July 19, 2019

Two Farmers and a Giraffe

Are You Sure?
oil on canvas
9" x 12"

It was a blistering heat.  I'd sweat through my shirt multiples times already...my shorts too.  You know it's hot when you sweat through your shorts.  The sound of bug song and the dusty smell was evidence of the time.  It was 6pm, when late afternoon gives way to early evening in mid-Midwestern summer and everything begins to glow golden.  I was painting a picture while standing in the middle of a skinny gravel road.  My car was parked nearby.  I had pulled over slightly to the right side of the glorified wagon path, but a ditch prevented me from obstructing anything more than bicycle traffic.  It didn't matter.  Nobody was going to drive down that road.  I was absolutely alone for the moment, but I wouldn't be alone for long.  

I was painting with gusto, or at least, an added enthusiasm that the task-at-hand demanded.  The following day, I would show my finished picture alongside dozens more, all created in a five day window and all within a small radius of my hometown, Bloomfield, Indiana.  I had advertised the exhibit as a celebration for the town of Bloomfield and I think it ended up being just that, however, I must admit, it was more of a motivational strategy for myself than a promotion.  I've found local inspiration for years, but I'd always wanted to paint a series of Bloomfield pictures on location, off-the-cuff, and all at once.  I needed an obligation to prevent me from getting lazy and potentially passing on the opportunities the landscapes and landmarks of Bloomfield have been offering me, or at least, those I've yet to take advantage of.  Someone important once said, "the best inspiration is a deadline."  My deadline was less than 24 hours away.  My exhibit would take place in Glover Gymnasium, an institution of Bloomfield basketball and gathering place for the entire community.  

It had been thirty minutes since I'd put brush to canvas.  The scene was a common one for this time of year.  In front of me, about half a football field ahead, rested an old tractor with hay baler in tow.  Round bales were scattered throughout the landscape, each taut and seemingly capable of rolling away in a breeze...I could tell they'd transformed from loose piles of grass and alfalfa the day before.  The tractor now sat posed in front of more piles, carefully raked in rows running away from me and towards a woods in the distance.  With what little I understand about farming and the procedure I was documenting, I concluded that the tractor would be moving soon.  What wasn't in bales soon would be and the tractor that stopped me on that little gravel road would soon be moving faster than I could capture in paint.

The barks of dogs were getting louder.  It only took a minute for them to come into view.  Even at a distance, I could tell they were mongrels.  Both were bright red and likely parented by a pit bull and some other less obvious breed.  They ran alongside an equally bright red pickup truck.  What it's paint had lost in sheen it made up for in stark contrast with the green that surrounded it as it slowly crept through the field and towards me.  I've experienced this sensation at least a hundred times now—the feeling of being discovered and apprehension of the confrontation that would follow.  It may of been a public road, but given the location and circumstance, I may as well have been standing on a back porch.  The truck made a broad turn and crept into my line of sight, initiating a loose conversation through an open window at a distance of thirty feet or so.  

Silence.  The gentle rumble of the engine had stopped abruptly.  I began focusing my eyesight from fairly distant objects to the dark silhouettes inside the cab.  "Howdy!" I yelped.  Silence.  "How are you guys doing today?" I asked with a slight drawl.  I had instantly changed my typical method of talking in hopes of alleviating the tension I could feel between us already.  Finally a response..."Whataya think yer doin?" one of the figures inquired.  I replied, "Just painting a picture."  Silence again.  The man in the passenger seat, nearest me, was having a cigarette and letting the smoke pour over his sweaty skin.  He just stared at me with mouth slightly ajar, the cigarette dangling in a manner that was representative of his overall demeanor...habitually lax.  I was like a wild animal.  I might as well of been a giraffe.  These men hadn't seen a giraffe this close before.  I may have been the first giraffe they'd encountered. 

I knew how to fix this.  I pointed over the hood of the pickup.  "I'm guessing that's your tractor over there?"  The man in the driver seat responded, "Yes, it is."  I carefully removed my nearly completed painting from the easel and turned it towards the men.  They looked at one another.  I could make out a shoulder shrugging type of snicker from the driver.  "Where you from?" he yelled to me.  "I'm from Bloomfield,"  I replied.  I followed with an invitation.  "I'm showing a bunch of paintings tomorrow in town...at the Glover Gymnasium...".  Before I could summon an RSVP, they had the truck in reverse and moving away from me.  They crept backwards for a moment, stopped, and then returned to the exact same spot.  The passenger said,  "Well, we ain't never seen nuttin' like this."  "Just a normal day for me," I responded.  Then the driver chimed in once more, "Where you from?"  I repeated myself.  "I'm from Bloomfield," I said with a smile, recognizing the absurdity of this interaction as if a bystander peering over my own shoulder.  They looked at one another again.  The same giggle ensued.  "Are you sure?" he yelled.  Before I had a chance to make a snarky remark, they were on their way again.

In a few minutes, the men were parked next to my subject, giving the tractor a once-over before beginning their chores.  They were just within earshot.  "Get him!  Go get him!" they barked at their dogs.  The dogs barked at me.  A few minutes later my painting was finished and I was pulling away on the little gravel road.  The tractor started spitting smoke as I rolled past a line of trees and out of sight for the moment.  I found a wide point in the road to make a turnaround and caught a glimpse of myself in my rear-view mirror.  I was wearing a wide-brimmed straw hat.  My curly blonde hair puffed out all around the headband...it was long enough to become entangled with my beard.  I was wearing flip-flops.  In terms of outward appearances, I may have looked a little silly.  The farmers must have noticed how silly I may have looked.  I don't know that I would've been any stranger to them if I had began speaking Cantonese.  I was a giraffe.  As I passed by the men a last time, I waved out the window.  They didn't wave back.

Everybody likes to be liked.  I didn't feel liked as I drove on to my next painting.  As you should expect, and as most of you surely can relate, I have an ego.  It's par for the course of pretending finished pictures are anything more than marks on a surface.  It's a necessity, I believe, for most creative endeavors.  And now, my ego was dented.  My painting wasn't ridiculed nor my prowess questioned, but I felt as if I had been mocked and teased.  On this scorching day, in this small corner of the very community I grew up in, I was a total outsider.  And even though it was only a two against one confrontation, I felt exceedingly outnumbered.  For the rest of the evening, I searched my mind for a solution to an uncomfortable situation that came and went in five minutes time, hours ago.  I concluded that time and my poor memory would be the only remedy.

The next day was a hectic one.  I had 50 wet paintings to sign, frame, and deliver to my Bloomfield exhibit.  From the moment I woke up and well past the moment my show would open, I was in a frenzy.  The hustle and bustle was enough to alleviate my worries about the evening before.  In fact, I hadn't thought of the red truck instigators at all that day.  But just prior to the opening reception, as I studied my body of work from the week, my eyes locked in on just one painting.  I called it "Are You Sure?"—a tongue-in-cheek reference to the prior day's experience and what I believed to be a much better title than "Tractor" or "Evening on the Farm".  Now that I think of it, "Bale Out" would've been a good title.  Either way, as I stood alone in the vastly empty gym, the little picture painted from the little gravel road caught my eye and sparked my memory.  I walked towards the painting as the bad feelings built again.  I remembered the anxiety I felt the night before.  Moreover, I felt embarrassed for being melodramatic about an interaction I'm sure didn't faze the opposing party in the slightest.  Heck, I thought, they were probably still laughing about the encounter at that very moment.  I imagined their dialogue—"An Artist!  Here in Bloomfield!  Ha!".  I felt ridiculous.  Then, I heard footsteps.

I turned my attention from the little painting to the doorway.  Walking towards me were two familiar silhouettes.  A panic swept over me for a moment but quickly faded with an exchange of head nods and half-smiles.  It was two on one again, but this time, I didn't feel outnumbered.  

So, two farmers and a giraffe stood in front of a bunch of pictures in an otherwise empty gymnasium in little Bloomfield, Indiana.  They were the last two people on Earth I imagined would attend my exhibit.  They were also the first two people through the door.

I don't know what all of this means, but I do know we're all in this together.  Sometimes we're right, sometimes we're wrong, and most of the time we're both.  

Thursday, July 18, 2019