Tuesday, February 12, 2013

the work is the calling (is the work)

How do I go about making a Very Large Painting when I've never gone bigger than 36", and usually smaller than that? How do I work on it in my 100 sq ft studio? And why would I choose to paint a phone booth when I've got the real thing right there, and I've done perfectly respectable paintings of phone booths over the years in various sizes, from 4"x6" to 14"x17"? Because a friend gave me heaps of raw canvas, because someone else said, "Why not?" and because I just want to see what it will look like, and if I can even do it. So I pin it to the wall outside my studio and draw and redraw, I stand on a chair and stand back and leap down and pull it onto the floor, lay it down and work on it flat and un-stretched, crawling around getting paint on my knees. I do a simple flat graphic depiction of my booth, just line and shape and lettering. I make it life size, which means 8 feet tall and 28" wide. Floor lint and stray threads and crumbs and hair get stuck in the paint. I use too much oil medium (I am a casual and messy mixer) and it stays tacky for days. Other parts have been thinned too much and dry oddly. In the meantime I am preparing with my friend Jon to open a gallery and here is my chance to hang this awkward painting with nobody to tell me I can't or shouldn't. It's wrinkled. I buy wood and Jon builds a  53"x100" stretcher for me. Two nights before the opening, the painting's still wet and snow is predicted, so I drag the canvas outside like a bridal train sweeping down the steps, and drape it over the bed of my truck and drive to the gallery. In the morning, armed with my staple gun, I begin. Stretching a painted never-stretched canvas can be difficult, but a 5x10-foot one is even more awkward than I'd thought. I pull and staple and flip and repeat and pry out staples and pull again. Jon helps and we wrestle the wrinkles into near-submission, but some remain. By nightfall, snow is knee-deep outside, whirling beneath the streetlamps. We hang the painting on blocks screwed to the wall. The day of the show, after a morning of snow-shoveling, I mix up a slightly wrong color to cover patches of bare or smudged canvas. (This in addition to hanging/lighting the rest of our paintings, including Jon's kinetic wood wheel wall piece with its movable parts, and preparing the gallery for its first opening.)
I feel elated and flustered and gratified. Later, people come in, and talk, they walk around, they go inside the real phone booth. Children also like the booth itself and to watch Jon's colorful wheel slowly turn; we'll post about his piece soon, too. The efforts always make sense, if I wait and watch and listen, to others, to my own process, to the paint and the grubbiness, the frustration and the pleasure.

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