A friend told me during a phone conversation last Friday, and follow up email, that the day was the last in our life time that would be comprised completely of odd numbered digits (1-1-1-9-1-9-9-9). With that anomaly came a shared whispered promise that it would be the last odd day we would ever have to endure. (I suspect this means there will be no more occurrences of such things like Bob Dylan appearances on Dharma and Greg.) Talk about odd. Recently after spending an afternoon racing around our northwestern suburbs desperately trying to find a church I didn't have the address of or name to, I arrived barely in time for an important service just as we were walking candles down the aisle. Afterward my brother-in-law asked me how my new job was going. I told him it felt so strange to finally have a job where I'm doing what I always wanted to be doing, that actually incorporates what I got my college degree for. It feels completely foreign to have to go into work and do something I actually enjoy doing. What a concept. He smiled and acknowledged that he understood. That an unexpected source showed such appreciation was a small moment that made the difficult but bearable day memorable.
Indeed last week as I stood in the middle of an abandoned Minneapolis flour mill looking at empty beer bottles and walls painted with gang graffiti, staring at the girl with soccer field eyes, I certainly hoped our odd days are finally behind us. Amongst the rubble and ruin I found a shiny nickel. I felt like a blessed man. I have often wished that we could measure how rich we are in life by the amount of nickels we have. I like nickels.
I used my new nickel to go toward some art supplies necessary to begin my second major painting project this year. The first was slapping a fresh coat of taupe on to my reluctantly scraped and primed garage. Besides that home improvement project historically this next stab at painting is my second attempt at actual artwork. My first try came back in 1993 as I attempted an oil paint portrait of Max. This new project is an effort to usurp angelic beauty defined and reconnect a part of me that I hope is still there. One of the subjects of the painting asked if it meant having to come over and model. I told her, no this is an attempt to get what's inside across, not outside down. No small task especially considering my limited artistic ability and my decision to work in a completely new medium- water colors. Heck I may as well try and do this thing left-handed. I'm more Claude Rains than Claude Monet after all. I can't imagine I can possibly get the shapes and images right but at the very least I hope I can capture some of the color that my mind constantly sees and appreciates.
I'm looking forward to this project. It is an attempt to force myself to see, think, and feel in a manner that doesn't come naturally. Each inch of the canvass has to be planned. Each stroke of the brush carefully controlled. The end result isn't as important as the process itself. The project will occupy a lot of my time and hopefully will make the holiday season pass on by quickly. We all need our stress relievers- and I think my usual outlets are in need of some reinforcement. Much as writing, banging away at my piano, and going out to shoot hoops blows away the troubles of the moment, it will be nice to come home and do something different. I don't like to repeat myself but I'm quite proud of my portrait of Max. I was so afraid it would turn out looking cartoonish but I don't think it did. And you can actually tell it's a cat I painted. Pomposity admitted, the lesson I learned from my first painting was the difference between a painting and a photograph. It may seemingly be an obvious difference but to me it was a refreshing lesson that had been somehow overlooked and taken for granted. Facts may be facts (and faxed) but creativity adds needed perspective.
Oddly enough, the last time I found a painted nickel was a somehow connected moment when I was in a similar state of mind. It was when we first opened up our Cheapo in Uptown. It was a big step for our company, coming right after our first name change to "Applause." It was right before the Uptown Art Fair and I had just gotten my head shaved. I looked good, damn good, though I think a tad frightening or out of the ordinary. ("Strike another match go start anew...") My task for the day was to stand outside our store and hand out fliers with a big bold "Applause" title on top notifying the area patrons of our store. Several people took our leaflet, glanced at it and threw it away just feet away from where I stood. Others walked by me refusing to take what I thrust at them. One kindly old lady, forever etched in my mind, smiled at me as she took the piece of paper from me. She quickly glanced at it and said to her companion, "Apple sauce, I like apple sauce." I can't possibly express how much that made me smile on a hot and weary day.
Yes indeed this painting will at the very least show that I see a contrast between windows and mirrors. One you see through and one reflects. Both are made from the same material and are necessary in our lives. Both show you things you sometimes need to know, sometimes don't need to know, sometimes want to see, sometimes don't want to see. Inside out outside looking in. That's what this painting is about.