June 24, 2017

Brand Park
Brand Park Road, April 2017 (Watercolor and inktense pencil on watercolor paper)

So, I sat at the top of the hill at the entrance to the park and did this piece on a recent beautiful spring day. An assortment of adults, dogs and yelling children wandered in front of my view, but thankfully none stayed too long. One guy was doing some rather intense bursts of exercise on a mat on the grass to my left. His dog sat dutifully next to him and watched the frantic up and down movement. I tried not to look, but there was so much huffing and puffing. Finally, they left and I stayed in the shade there until my paints were in the sun and drying out too fast. (As the water evaporated from the color pools I had mixed, the colors were changing, and not in a good way.) Anyway, in the 45 minutes or so I was there I got what I wanted—a row of palm trees, “greens galore,” people way off in the distance and a road.

As I thought about what I would say in this post, a number of my reoccurring “life as art” themes popped into my head. I could write about rows of palm trees and my obsession with that kind of pattern and symmetry. (I also like the pattern and symmetry of rows of wine grapes.) I could write about the importance of what’s behind what you are painting and how that can be just as worthy of attention as what’s front and center. Or I could write about why a prefer landscapes and plants to people (hence my annoyance with the yelling, and huffing and puffing at the park and why I put only a couple of them way off in the distance). But I think I settled on my fixation/obsession with roads.

When I paint it’s not relaxing. I all but vibrate with the planning, mixing of colors, and then the actual execution of my art. I’m always about 70% certain how I want it to look when I’m done, with the rest a wonderful accident of color and placement. I imagine what color should be next to another for a certain effect, or what color should be under another, or where the white spaces should be, or even how I will add some kind of pencil or watercolor crayon as a final touch. You see, I also get bored easily and need to get it all out and on the page before I am just over it and want to be done. Because there is nothing worse than going too far and overworking a piece. Oil is a little more forgiving as you can just paint over something you’ve changed your mind about. But watercolor is in the moment and there is no turning back once you start that first color wash or lay down the intense dark shadows. So, with all this thinking, planning and self-doubt about whether I can accomplish what I want before the timer goes off in my head, I think about places of rest on the page. My skies give my brain a break and allow me to take a few moments to wash in some soft blue relief. But I also include more terrestrial respites with the roads that run through much of my art. There is something quite calming about the soft grays of concrete next to a jumble of wildflowers or vineyards. Concrete grey next to soft green lawn is also a place for me to stop and rest, and wait for paint to dry.

Roads are also important to most of my landscapes as they are meant to take me somewhere–through a countryside and into the hills and beyond, around a corner to a surprise or just onto to somewhere else. I have always lived my life trying to be “under the radar” and not wanting to be noticed. So sometimes the roads in my art are like a backdoor to an unseen place.

I think sometimes my intentional “not being noticed” comes from being shy, a definite family trait. This makes me think of my dad telling a story about my younger brother. This handsome, quiet and shy brother was taking ballroom dancing classes. My dad and I agreed that this seemed a very strange thing for a person who didn’t want to be noticed to do. He showed me a picture of my brother dancing with a girl, who would later become his wife. My dad said he was sure the look on my brother’s face showed that he was very uncomfortable and looking for the nearest exit. At their wedding reception my brother and his wife actually did a dance together, all alone and center stage, in full view of all the guests. Hmmm…

Note about my handsome younger brother: My brother recently put the wheelhouse from a tugboat in his backyard. He found it sitting near the waterfront in Sausalito. I guess the tugboat had sunk in the bay and the owner had it brought it up. It was just sitting there, waiting for my brother. And it was free! Of course my brother had to pay to have it brought to his house in Sunnyvale and then lifted by crane over the house to the backyard. Now it sits there, in a sea of concrete. I think he uses it at his man cave. It’s a place where he can be alone and smoke cigars. Last I heard he was planning to put a ship’s bell inside. I can’t imagine why he would ever want to ring the bell. Maybe if some cigar ash dropped in his lap he might grab the bell pull by mistake…I can’t imagine why anyone would want to ring such a thing on purpose.

Happy Birthday Brian (June 29th)!

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