I started a new painting. No big deal. I have started and finished about 200 paintings. On wood, canvas, paper.
Most are in the garage. One’s in Perth, Australia; another’s set for LA. Twenty or so are in a couple of locales. Most are here and not going anywhere fast.
The point is not what I have painted, but I am going to paint next. That is always the point. On occasions, on finishing a painting, I was stumped for my next, but it would come soon enough. In a dream, or a daytime vision, or from the support itself – plain white paper, wood board, canvas.
Not knowing what next to do was and is unpleasant; to date, the restlessness is/was shortlived.
I thank the Muses and the Great Unknown.
I always tried to do something new. It is, and was, important not to repeat myself. A new stage, new characters, a new visual plotline and story.
About two weeks ago, the next painting appeared in its entirety, but so did the second, and third, and the entire series seemed to expand like a deck of flash cards which I would have to accurately and hurriedly paint.
Life gets in the way, so two weeks passed, and I only started today. Back where we began. In more ways than one.
I never moved to Italy.
I stayed in Lasalle, followed a dear old friend to art school, but he dropped out to follow a maestro, and I stayed on to complete my studies.
Never gifted at drawing, or painting, I read much and widely, much more than any of my classmates, and did well on my exams. I also happened to write relatively well. There was no great competition. The class of visual art students were not big Readers and were largely uninterested in the written word – unless it was backlit with neon!
I enjoyed studying; combined with writing extensively with notions picked up from the texts assigned, and many more besides, I did well on my exams.
That my life drawing was weak, my perspectives surreal, my shading unlikely was largely overlooked.
I was also well-behaved, engaged with professors before, during and after class, and was pretty much liked.
Teachers liked my enthusiasm and scope – and would start skimming through my papers after page five, my answer to question one, for example.
Thanks to a teacher, I found a part-time job at an arts supply store located downtown. I worked Thursday and Friday from six to nine, and all day Saturday.
I needed the job because my family had moved to Italy without selling the duplex, but I was lucky they still allowed me to live in the bachelor’s, a one room semi-interred flat in Lasalle.
Tenants occupied the two upstairs flats, the rent forwarded to my parents’ Italian account. My flat was free, of course, but I would have to attend to maintenance and small repairs.
Still, I felt lucky. Having a roof over your head, a place to live and work, paint and study, was no small thing and I was grateful.
Of course, I broke my mother’s heart, my sister cried, and my father thought they should have stayed in Canada anyway. But they left.
I finished school. Cegep, that is, and went to Concordia. I continued my studies: art history, art education.
I knew I would teach. I wanted to teach. And I started teaching in Cegep, having completed my MA.
I liked being in school, life on campus, smart colleagues, bright students, the competition, the desire to outshine your peers with publications, exhibitions, notoriety. Sure, that was all good.
I wrote reviews. There was no point in reviewing bad work, lending a spotlight to an artist that did not deserve the attention, and so I persisted in featuring works I did like, artists I enjoyed, thought interesting, intriguing, deserving.
The community, being small, in Montreal, I won the tiniest notoriety when first one artist, or gallerista, then others, were noticed for not being reviewed by me.
The ignored struck back by reviewing my own art, not ignoring, but writing a bad review.
Writing a bad review, not a review about how bad my art was, but the review, the writing itself, was bad. Bloated, hyperbolic, abstract, incomprehensible, or so insightful it hurt the author, if nobody else. A game, nothing more, nothing less.
And I was amused. I was teaching, but kept my job at the art supply store. I liked walking the aisles, being ho-hummed by a would-be costumer looking for a specific brush, or paint, or instrument, or advice. The occasions would sometimes lead to small talk – life, art, the hardships, the joy – and sometimes these would lead to friendship, relationships – deep and long, brief and intense, and as likely, one-night stands.
After work, I would walk around downtown, sometimes with colleagues, often alone, go to shows, and inevitably meet with students and former students, struggling artists juggling ambition, craft, ego, vision, careers and aspirations.
A pint of bitter was my drink and I raised a few in the endless talks, discussions that finished late into the night, and always left me exhilerated and exhausted.
Back at work, sooner than wished for, it was only after four or five late-nights that I would begin to suffer, and so it turned out that I’d be home on a Saturday when everybody went out.
And Saturdays I would start on a new painting in the bachelor’s where I am now painting: the bachelor’s.