Sunday, May 31, 2009

Different Kinds of Beauty

Yesterday my wife and I went to the celebration of the Buddha's birthday (and deathday and the day of his enlightenment) at the local Buddhist center where she studies; we had a lot of fun. There was a procession to the cedi (pronounced sort of like "jetty"), a tall memorial monument to the Buddha and to Buddhist "saints." We chanted the metta chant (offering peace, happiness, and safety to all, friends and enemies alike) and heard haunting Burmese music and chants. Before that, there was a musical performance, first starring a beautiful Burmese woman singer and her husband performing on traditional instruments and then starring a bluegrass band (interesting mix there) made up of three fourteen-year old boys. They were wonderful players - banjo, fiddle, mandolin. It was almost enough, though, just to watch the boys themselves. They were incomparably beautiful in that way that all young people are: copious, floppy heads of hair, dewy skin, gawky shy gestures. My wife and I were talking this morning about them, each admiring the boys in our own ways, and we got to talking about the different kinds of beauty that exist. We agreed that there's absolutely something heartbreakingly beautiful about human beings in "the first blush" or whatever, but we also agreed that our culture really misses the mark on not celebrating all the kinds of beauty that exist.

Here's a painting of Stan, a model I've worked with twice before. He's a great model, and I really enjoyed painting him. He looks to be in his late fifties, with salt-and-pepper hair, craggy face, and bushy white mustache. He's a musician of the aging folkie variety.

I'm at a place in my life (46 now) when I am looking up: toward older guys who can show me what it might mean to be really old or later middle-aged and still be - well, beautiful. Stan has a dignity and strength and grace that define the healthy mature man to me. I suppose it doesn't hurt that he's still pretty buff and sculpted. (Here's hoping my yoga practice will keep me in trim.)

There are many different kinds of beauty, and I find that one of the highest forms is the form that comes along with the power of calm and assured experience. As I get older, I get happier and less anxious about how I look than I felt when I was young - not the reverse. This is beauty to me, and it is a very, very potent form.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Plein Air: Oh So Lovely

This painting was made on the sand at Seven-Mile Beach on Grand Cayman. I think it's the best landscape I've ever done. It's the only framed watercolor I have on my wall - well, this one plus two others in the same frame, also painted on beaches on Grand Cayman. These are some of the best clouds I've ever done, and the umbrella's nifty.

(I lie - I do have a few other framed watercolors, now that I think about it: one a portrait of my wife and one a scene of Tomales Bay. I also have a portrait of my cat (RIP) on my desk at work.)

What an incredibly beautiful day it was when I painted this. I had been in snorkeling, gawking at lobsters and angelfish and squid and sergeant majors, and had had a lovely lunch on the sand. My wife was snoozing away, as is her wont, and I just grabbed the travel painting kit and went to town. The paint dried fast! It was a hot, hot, hot day on the beach.

Seven-Mile Beach curves way around, as you see here: a big crescent. The translucent green-then-blue water licks the sand lightly all the way. There are nice coral heads a couple of hundred yards off the beach.

I'm not sure why I've framed so few of my paintings. Well, I partly know why. I paint a lot of pictures of naked people, and, like lots of artists who paint figures, I'm at a loss as to what to do with them. I have some figures that I think represent some of my best work. I admit that it feels funny to put them on the wall. I suppose there are lots of "tasteful" ones I could put up, and maybe I will someday. Here's one of my main reasons for writing this blog: the opportunity to do something with all those figures.

Anyway, life is good when you're painting a nice beach scene at Grand Cayman.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

One of Those Nights

Here's another picture of Stefanie, painted last Wednesday evening. Sigh. I never felt like I found my groove that night. This is the best painting to come from the evening, and it's OK.

I don't know why my relationship to my own art waxes and wanes so much. For much of this spring, I have felt very happy and proud of my work - very powerful as an artist, I would say. Looking back at the paintings I made during that time, I cannot say in fact that those paintings were any better or worse than what I did the other day. So why the glum feelings?

I wish I knew the answer to this question. I guess it's a variation on the question that all artists have about their own work: how do I know whether it's good or bad, and how does the transitory state of my feelings about it matter in the larger scheme of things? I come back to my central principle: painting for me is about practice, not product. My job is to show up, brushes in hand, whatever the state of my feelings.

My art matters to me: that is the salient fact. If it didn't matter, I wouldn't have these waves to ride. I'll take the waves.