Art History

I am not sure exactly when I became so intrigued with myself as a subject worthy of significant investigation, but that fascination certainly goes way back. Long before the confessional style of my Nine Cent Girl blog emerged, in my fiction, pockets of memories or infatuations or revelations can be found. Like the story I have been working on since last November about Mrs. Hendrick. After being left by her husband of several decades for a younger woman she took wholeheartedly to the bottle, and the array of pills prescribed by her Doctor. But instead of making her the stereotypical victim of her sad circumstances, I thought, why not allow her choices to emerge as legit survival mechanism? Why not allow her some dignity in her decision to keep going, come what may, chin up, albeit tipsy? After all, isn’t that how I spent one too many nights during my COVID confinement? I met Mrs. Hendrick head-on in my imagination and fell hard for her.

“This is my mother’s room. I’ll leave you to it,” and like that the plainly dressed daughter moved down the hallway and closed her door leaving me to meet the grande dame solo. 

I knocked with two small raps. A husky voice commanded a double “come in, come in” and with that I turned the brass knob and pushed my way into what might come my way. 

Not just a bedroom, but a boudoir, all apricot and violet, silk and velvet, seating around a marble fireplace complete with fire, and in front of the double windows, she sat at her mahogany dressing table and gold lacquered mirror from which I watched her reflection apply black eyeliner with surgical precision. There was a half-filled martini glass at her elbow and a smoldering cigarette in a crowded ashtray. Her platinum hair was teased up high and gathered into a french twist, and even though her caftan was flowing and voluminous it did not hide her many curves but instead gave them even more dimension. Before she moved on to her second eye, she took a meaningful sip of her drink, a lingering puff of her cigarette and let her gaze drift up to mine. She motioned me closer.

Weekly last winter bottles toppled my recycling bin while her’s were discretely collected, but together, I imagined, she and I would soldier on through. I have yet to finish the novella for Mrs. Hendrick, but I do hope she makes it with her silks enhancing her every subtle move from boudoir to dining room to wherever she envisions, as I hope to survive beyond the next chapter headed my way clear across into a smoother horizon.

Perhaps fiction is always thinly veiled truths, as are my blog posts. Full disclosure, I am ultimately intrigued with the tangled strings between all the people I love, even between the casual encounters and the decades of an ever evolving me. What else matters?

The last few weeks I have been trying to piece together my art history, as in when I first picked up paint and brush and hit at a canvas with sincere deliberation. This took some diving into the Archives Department of The New School, and to my good fortune there is a dedicated archivist and her assistant on the ready to dig through paper to find me.

In good fiction, there is generally a solid backstory. In real life or at least mine, there are periods of blackout. I generally reference them as the lost years, when I wandered about in a hazy state with limited and selective attention. But the thrill of walking across lower Manhattan to spend a few hours in the shadows of creativity woke me. Perhaps typical for an 18 year oId, but over this last year, as I once again brushed paint across a variety of surfaces, I wondered back to my teacher from decades ago. All I could remember echoed about in my hollow memory until it filled in a bit more, and then the archivist added the full picture.

Norman Carton paintings

Norman Carton was an Abstract Expressionist of great esteem, and my instructor for a two-semester course, “Drawing, Painting, Color and Composition.” We did it all, with charcoal in hand I tackled what I could with his calm and extraordinary presence standing behind me, all the while waxing poetic about painting in Paris in the 1930’s: the whole revolution of the post-modern art world spinning in his yarns. Occasionally he would guide my charcoal to expand the circle of our model’s rounded bottom or lean my brush to extend the stem of a flower. Never to hinder my own direction, but to help me see my own imaginative vision more clearly. When he selected one of my canvases for the Spring Show I don’t remember feeling particularly stunned as I was last week when the archivist sent a photo of the flyer and I realized I was the only student from the class represented. We parted company when I was leaving New York for what I thought would be a forever-married life, and he encouraged me to keep my paints and brushes close by. As one then two then three children arrived the art closet supplies grew too but my own art making stayed mostly quiet until last summer when painting again saved me.

I find myself staring at my own work with fresh eyes now that I have rediscovered those of my first real teacher. Sure there have been classes and workshops before and since my year at The New School, but there is something about the synchronicity of thinking back to this humble man who appeared label-less to me then, who only filled me with more vision and extended my possible, who now graces my memory as I create once again, this time to satisfy my own daily state of being.

I don’t know what it is that knits us to others that leads me to reminisce about that lost year in particular, but I am not fool enough to doubt its significance. A short week after packing my box of supplies from his studio classroom I had taken another’s name and fell into all sorts of trouble, none of which we might have predicted as we shook hands farewell. But now, as I have long since pulled myself from that dark well, I can slide my brush with a power with which I credit to Carton’s wild and exacting expressionism.


5 thoughts on “Art History

  1. My father was a weekend, abstract expressionist, and one of my strongest childhood memories is the smell of oil paints being mixed on his palette as he worked in the temporary studio that he set up every weekend in the garage. Although he died forty years ago, my house is still filled with the paintings that survived. I’m thrilled that my daughter, who never knew him, has begun taking them from my house and moving them to hers.

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  2. Pingback: Celebrations Abound | Nine Cent Girl

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