Lost, Again

Lost, Again – Watercolor, pencil, ink – 8.5 x 11 inches.

What if, one morning you find yourself enjoying one of the great pleasures of life: You are visiting a strange city and you deliberately allow yourself to get lost. It’s a cloudy morning in the first days of Autumn. There’s a chill wind with a hint of rain and the scent of October, of oak leaves turning from green into ochre into brown.

You put on a jacket, turn off your cellphone and open the door from your temporary home onto a quiet street, into the freedom of having no map or compass. You walk and wander and find yourself guided towards water, towards a harbor. You meander along canals, with boats on either side, mostly small houseboats, like barges. Puffs of smoke float above chimneys. Blue jeans, underwear, shirts, bras, and diapers hang on clotheslines and on one boat, a little black dog glares at you but doesn’t bark.

You cannot be more lost, more content. On the quay to your left a long passageway, a tunnel, appears. Without hesitation you enter. It opens into a small courtyard. No trees, no grass; brick walls enclose the space. Something marvelous here! Imagine seven sculptures, life-sized figures, black like soot. Gods and goddesses carved from stone? Where did they come from? They all bear scars of powerful saws, as if they had been cut away from the facades of 19th century buildings. But what are they doing here, strapped onto plinths in this deserted courtyard?

You open your book and begin to draw them. It’s not long before you get lost in lines and colors, lost in the sculptures’ numinous presence. Are they sculptures trying to become angels or angels trying to become sculptures? Are they even more lost than you are?

Lines and colors blur as thunder crackles and rain begins to fall.

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.