The Gazebo

The Gazebo – Oil on canvas – 24 x 36 inches.

This painting has never appeared in a gallery nor in any other public exhibition, and this is the only time it has been posted on social media. So here’s a question: Could this structure be a fantasy of the artist, or might it actually exist somewhere? If it’s “real,” that is, if it has been painted on the spot somewhere, where might that somewhere be? In Italy? Copenhagen, perhaps? Connecticut?

When I first saw the gazebo many years ago, I had been informed that it was part of the history of what had been the largest thoroughbred horse ranch in California. To me it appeared in my imagination as a dazzling relic of the 1930’s. I saw summer garden parties with beautiful women in flowing dresses, flowers everywhere, an orchestra playing Gershwin music, boats on the lake, champagne and tuxedoes, straw hats, and the shade of Jay Gatsby, hovering above the festivities.

The structure’s arches and roof suggested Europe, and yet here it existed in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains. If there is a ghost present, it would be that of Errol MacBoyle, the wealthy gentleman who built the gazebo and the accompanying lake. The gazebo was not built for parties, however, but as the control center for the electrical connections, pipes and valves that regulated the water that still flows into a gigantic fountain at the opposite end of the lake.

You can make your own choice between the literal gazebo and the imaginal one. Or, why choose? Might it possible to hold both visions in mind at the same time? And perhaps include two ghosts as well? Or in the case of Jay Gatsby, the ghost of a ghost?

Study for a Portrait

Study For a Portrait – Watercolor – 8.5 x 11 inches.

A while ago I posted a drawing of two musicians — a base player and a drummer — and I apologized that the image was a sketch, only a “rehearsal,” and not a finished product. To my surprise, the unfinished quality of the drawing didn’t bother anyone. In fact, a former dancer said that she loved rehearsals in general and the informality of my sketch in particular.

So here’s another sketch, a rehearsal for a portrait that I recently finished. Perhaps I’ll post that painting too, someday.

The room is on the top floor of the last house on a dead end road in Lugano, Switzerland. It’s a hot afternoon in July and the windows are open to catch a breath, any breath, of air. My brother Tim writes at the dining room table. Jayne, his wife, sits on a windowsill. Their son Jake plays the guitar. (Stella, a small schnauzer, dozes under a chair nearby, but I forgot to include her.)

Aside from the presence of my family, what attracted my imagination to this scene was the summer light and shadows. Oaks and walnut trees surround the house. The green hillside behind Jayne is a vineyard. There’s a lawn below us and an orchard of apple trees. A pergola and a picnic table await for us to arrive soon with a plate of olives and Jayne’s foccacia, and a bottle of Montepulciano d’Abruzzo.

Apart from the radiators on the walls, there’s nothing to suggest November winds and leafless trees and snows that will soon blanket the vineyard. Nor is there any hint that one of the people in the drawing will see only a few more summers.

But that’s another story, and another painting: the portrait that this sketch inspired, also carrying its own weight of memory.

A Wedding

A Wedding – Watercolor – 21 x 29 inches.

Ideally, commissions for paintings are usually clear and straightforward and they haven’t changed much since the days of Michelangelo. For example: I agree to paint your subject for x amount of florins, euros or dollars; we agree on the medium and the dimensions, and we agree on the deadline for its completion. I insist on being paid half the fee for my work in advance. After business matters are settled, it’s my responsibility to finish and deliver the work. I do my best to make you content so that you write a check for the remainder of my fee.

In the “real” world of painting on commission, the best of circumstances happen rarely. In the case of “A Wedding,“ however, the situation could hardly have been better. The client’s request was straight and clear: Please paint me and my husband alone in front of the altar on our special day. No priest, no altar boys, no relatives, just us.

The most important component of a wedding is the bride and groom; everything else is background. But what if the background is as interesting as the couple? Especially if it overflows with symbols? I mean that in the altarpiece behind this couple there’s nothing less than saints and angels witnessing the vows of the Sacrament of Matrimony. So I painted the watercolor accordingly, as if the earthly and heavenly realms reflected each other, both equally important.

Often clients don’t like such imaginative interpretations. In this case, the client was content and paid me what amounted to almost half of a round trip ticket to Madrid.

That was four years ago. I hope that, with the blessings of the Heavenly Host, the happy couple is still a happy couple.