Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Ode to an Aged Artist - Part I

Tuesday, August 4, 2010

I am working on a big painting in my studio. I’ve decided to document the making of this painting as part of Portrait of the Artist as an Old Man. Each day that I work on it, I’ll take a photo at the beginning of the session and write about the process. I’ll also share information about the imagery.

I am starting to think about this painting as a self-portrait that I don’t appear in. Sure, that is true about any painting, but this one more than others.

It is hard to paint and write at the same time. I keep needing to wash the paint off my hands before I can tap the keys.

I wish I had started earlier. I’m already a couple of days into the painting and some of the early laying on of color was interesting.

The Title

Over the course of his long career, Pablo Neruda wrote in many styles. At one point he composed a series of simple, accessible, observational poems describing everyday objects. In 1954 he published these poems as Odas Elementales, Elemental Odes. He was only 50 at the time and would live another nineteen years. However, these poems are referred to as “late career” works. One is called Ode to an Aged Poet and contains the lines:

There I left him

hurrying toward death

as if

death awaited,

she too, almost naked,

in a somber park,

and hand in hand

they would make

their way to

a decaying resting place

where they would sleep

as every man

of us

will sleep:


a dry





that will also

crumble into dust.

How’s that for looking mortality in the eye?

The Tiles

I started painting a tile floor underneath the elephant. To get the pattern I want, I will have to paint equal amounts, more or less, of four colors; purple, white, light green and dark green. I did the purple part and it took me an hour. There are three more hours to go on this one section.

Here is another nice mess I got myself into.

I saw this tile design in Guatemala and sketched it into a notebook. It has been in my mind since then.

The Elephant

Here is a paragraph from something I wrote when Deb and I came back from Botswana. I’ve only been to Africa once, for two weeks, but the images stick with me.

I was surprised by the emotion I felt at seeing the animals. The African Jacana was a brown so warm and rich it was reason enough to feel joyful. Giraffes were so improbable that they confirmed life is essentially a mystery that can’t be explained by theory or faith, a notion that brought with it a lovely melancholy. Many of the animals were giggle inducing, only one step removed from Disney cartoons. The monkeys, the mongoose, the secretary bird, seemed to be auditioning for the next version of the Lion King. The old elephants with their tattered ears and battered tusks seemed enduring in a way that only someone over sixty could really appreciate. They made me feel proud and courageous to be old and in Africa.

But this elephant seems to be wearing a lace unitard. What’s with that?

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