Saturday, August 16, 2014

Painting a moment

Late summer sun illuminates the outer leaves of the canopy
and dark shadows dapple the street beneath the oaks and elms and sycamores.
I'd love to be able to paint this moment,
capture the movement of each limb and each leaf
as the warm August breeze
rushes through the lacework of branches, making their asphalt floor seem to dance.

Inspiration exists in a moment and then is gone.
I remember being 20. Being able to seize the day.
Pulling my pick-up over on the shoulder of a farm road because a moment caught my eye.
I reached behind the seat and pulled my three-legged easel out
and set it up in the gravel and tickseed beside the road,
offering a casual wave to the curious rancher who slowed down to see what I was up to.

I painted a quick wash,
embellished the scene with a paint horse I had ridden with a friend the year before,
and then, when the watercolors were dry, I worked out some fine sketching, the details that would make the scene believable and purposeful.

I had the painting framed under glass, not knowing if that was the thing to do with watercolor art,
and I bought a bus ticket to Florida to see the friend whose image I had tried to impose on this idyllic scene.
You should have seen this young country boy,
holding the awkwardly-sized artwork in a narrow bus seat,
elbow to elbow with the cast of some rural tragedy.
There was the young Mexican man who smelled of oranges.
He got on the bus in some central Florida town with nothing but the scent of the fruit he had been picking.
I heard his stomach growl, so I reached into my bag and found one of the sandwiches I had packed days before. I split the sandwich in half and silently insisted that he take one of the halves, which he did, and he ate greedily, not saying a word, and looked silently out the window, slope-shouldered and alone.

In those days, I the urgency of a moment was palpable.
The lapse between impulse and action was a sigh.

But that was 20 years ago.
And time has lessons to teach the idealists.
Gather ye rosebuds while ye may, but know that once something beautiful is discovered,
it's only a matter of time before it will wither away.

She says she still has that painting somewhere,
and I still have that three-legged easel...

...but the inspiration is different
and my perspective has changed:
Waking from a long sleep,
my eyes are open
to see the day,
to seize the moment.
I've kicked my television to the curb
and I will have one less beer,
and I will damn my own complacency until I've burned every last molecule of inspiration.

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