Since I moved to this SoCal house (last August) I have been meaning to sit on my front porch and create a piece of art. So, last Sunday I did just that. The air was slightly cooler than it had been and the wind that blew in all the smoke from fires around us had moved farther north. Good for us, but bad for Santa Barbara.
I have been focusing a lot on color as of late, but on that day I was more interested in composition. It was fun to decide what had really caught my eye, and what I would leave in and what I would leave out. Would it be an expansive landscape that included many details jumbling around on a hillside? Would I include plants that were surrounding the view, and actually creating a kind of frame around my special elements in the middle? Or would it be something else, like a vignette of specifically chosen elements, almost like a still life of large things? Those are sometimes the most tricky to do because these days I want my art to look effortless even though the planning and logic of placement certainly takes a bit of effort. I even sometimes squint my eye to imagine the frame it will be in or use my hands to block out the things I don’t want to see. I get to pick and choose what I want to leave in and what I leave out. It is my composition, my vision.
So, this is what I decided to include: two palm trees (the one on the left got cut out and didn’t notice my bad cropping job until just now…), several sharp dark green cypress spires, a hint of houses with their roofs, and some plant specimens that include an orange tree covered with fruit. (Yes, there is ripening citrus on the trees in SoCal right now.) But perhaps the understated star of this show is the background that suggests soft verdant hills that have not been blackened by fire. It is where my eye can rest. You might wonder what I left out. Do you want to know? I removed the white truck that was in front of the house, took down a rather large telephone pole with wires extending in all directions and I axed a rather non-descript shrub in front of the palm tree on the left so you could see that tree (which I inadvertently chopped out…). Often, when I do a landscape I am looking to crawl into the picture and escape down a road, up a tree or I picture myself in the place just beyond a hill like this one. That means I take out items that don’t contribute to the story or feeling I am trying to convey.
When it comes to my art I think I always look to the “free speech” part of the first amendment for inspiration. I mean, I think it is perfectly OK to present my work as though I am having a conversation with you and I get to tell you what I hope you see. I know I am often overdramatic, but if you really plan to share your art with someone, you hope they get what you are trying to say using color and composition. But in way it doesn’t really matter if it isn’t working for you because you have my permission to look away, or look at someone else’s blog or art, or whatever. That’s fine with me. (Of course you don’t really need my permission to do that, right?) And, without being overly dramatic again, I think that’s what makes democracy (specifically the first amendment) so wonderful, you don’t have to like what I like. You don’t have to listen to me.
Are you wondering where all this is going? There is definitely more to this story…
Ok, earlier on that Sunday I went to a new coffee shop and began a new book that I had gotten at the library the day before. (Yes, I still browse library shelves for something to read.) I don’t know if I should mention the title of the book as it is a rather “lightweight” murder mystery and I don’t know if I am going to like it yet. Anyway, I was quietly drinking my double cappuccino and happily reading away, when a guy behind me began talking a little louder than I like. I mean, I could hear him very clearly over the other sounds of this rather busy place and it was kind of distracting. He was one of 7 or 8 people all sitting around, eating brunch and it sounded like he was giving the others at the table a lecture. I was really trying not to pay attention. So, I am thinking this is a free country and I attempt to dive back into my book, wondering who had put the poison in the tea that had just killed Beau. But then he began to describe, to the rapt crowd of mostly women at the table, that Satan and all his many demons were walking among us. I imagined they had just come from church and he was continuing the morning’s message to his lunch companions and me. I couldn’t really “unhear” this now and thought of planning my departure, but wasn’t quite finished with my cappuccino. I naively hoped he would focus on his meal and stop talking. But of course that was not to be and he wasn’t done. So, now he began to speak of Jews and all the problems they have brought to the world, including the fact that Jews had killed Jesus. Merry Christmas! I guess I had never actually heard someone say anti-Semitic things over brunch in a coffee shop. But I knew I did not have to sit there and listen to such “hate.” I quietly closed my book and left, wondering if I would ever go back to that coffee shop again.
I went home, and planned and executed the composition you see here, not intending to give my earlier flight from the coffee shop another thought. But somehow I started obsessing about what freedom of speech really meant to me and how the right to speak freely had a flipside and I wasn’t required to hang around and listen. I even Googled “First Amendment” and was reminded that besides freedom of speech it also guarantees us freedom of the press, freedom of religion and freedom to assemble peaceably. So, I guess the church group in the coffee shop was exercising another part of their first amendment right as well. But of course I wasn’t quite done with my little bit of personal drama. I told myself such anti-Semitic people were only allowed in my composition if they were all inside the truck that I so carefully removed from this piece. Then they could drive off into their personal sunset and leave me alone with my personal composition, my personal vision. Ok, so now I’m done…
Footnote to the story: This morning my son and I went back to coffee shop. We had a lovely brunch and all I could hear in the background was the Beatles. Ah me, there is a God!
Note about a wonderful book of “color”: Besides the murder mystery that I am still not sure I will finish, I found a rather wonderful book called, The Color of Pixar, by Tia Kratter. According to the introduction in the book, Ms. Kratter has been a Shader Art Director at Pixar for 19 years. (Not sure what a “Shader” is…) Anyway, she has taken specific 1/24 of a second images from various Pixar movies she has “Shaded (?)” and matched them with a border of color and put all such images in a book. The book starts with white borders framing an image, then the borders gradate to lilac, then purple, continuing on through all the colors of the rainbow. In fact the first two pages with white borders are two shots of the desk lamp that is so “iconic Pixar.” And the last couple pages are framed with black. And of course the irony that I love here is that all the digital art that was created for such a book was not made with an artist’s brush on paper, but a computer program. Gotta love that!