Portrait of a Woman

La Condesa de Chinchón (detail)

“She was one of a pair of twin sisters. Why choose this twin and not the other? The choice was obvious.
I felt she had an inner life….”
   Lucian Freud

Every arrival in Spain feels full of joy; every departure has been sad. My last goodbye was at the end of a November, at the end of an autumn. I reluctantly packed my suitcase to leave the warmth of the Mediterranean coast and the warmth of friends to catch a train to the cold wind of Madrid and then a long flight home to winter in California.  As he drove me to the station, my friend Paco asked me which of two cities I liked better, Valencia or the Capitol? The question was difficult to answer. It was like asking: whose music do you prefer, Bach’s or Mozart’s? Or, which ocean is your favorite, the Atlantic or the Pacific? Absurd questions. So I answered, “Spain would be a sad place without both cities.”

Later, as the train pulled away from the farms and orange groves of the coast and then rolled across the austere plains of La Mancha, it seemed that Paco’s question had an interesting answer after all: Valencia is closer to my heart than Madrid because it is the city in which my friends are still alive. Paco, Toti, Maye, Isa, Manolo, Eduardo, Diana, Elena, Antonio, Isabel, Nacho and many others are still here, sharing our lives and friendships together. In Madrid things are different. My dearest friends are no longer on this earth; they lie beneath it. Two of them, Hieronymus Bosch and Albrecht Dürer, said goodbye more than 500 years ago. Another friend, Diego Velázquez died in 1660 and yet another, Francisco Goya, left us only recently, in 1828. The bones of all of them have long ago disintegrated into powder, but the worlds they painted when they were alive still radiate into our lives from the walls of the Prado.

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The Lives of Women

When I was a student in college, the walls of my youthful worldview began to collapse as I discovered the films of Ingmar Bergman, François Truffaut, Federico Fellini and other directors. My friends and I loved discussing The Seventh Seal, The 400 Blows and La Strada. But one night, after a date at the movies, my girlfriend accused me of taking films– especially “foreign” films– too seriously. The accusation hurt my feelings because I thought she meant there was something wrong with me. She made it clear: that was exactly what she meant.

It was true that when I first saw Disney’s Pinocchio as a little boy, I was so terrified when the whale swallowed the puppet/boy that I turned my back to the screen. I can tell you what the rest of the audience in the theatre looked like as they watched the film, but I refused to look at it. So my girlfriend was right; I certainly had taken Pinocchio much too seriously. But why, I wondered? What was wrong with me?  As a young man I knew that there were several things wrong with me, but only later did it occur to me that taking films seriously wasn’t one of them. It was her problem, not mine: she didn’t take films seriously enough. So we broke up.
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A Dance in Two Parts – 2

In last week’s post, I wrote about my painting of people dancing at the Nevada County Fair. The work had been commissioned by the county’s Board of Supervisors to decorate the county’s newly constructed  administrative center. After the painting was installed, I left California  and spent a few months painting in Spain. When I returned to the U.S., a message on my studio’s answering machine cast a shadow on my happy homecoming. A gruff male voice in a menacing tone demanded that I phone him: “Hey, are you the guy that did that painting that’s in the new county building? The people dancing? Well, I got something to tell you. You call me right away, you hear?”

I couldn’t imagine why this man was angry, but his tone of voice led me to expect the worst.  Had I painted him dancing with someone else’s wife? Or equally unfortunate, had I depicted his wife dancing with someone she wasn’t supposed to be dancing with?

I waited until the next day to return his call.

A Dance at the Fair – Oil/canvas – 30 x 60 inches

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