Bougainvillea Looking West
I’m still working on a landscape that I started this summer and wrote about in “Front Yard Monet”. I know that it’s nearly done as some areas are resisting improvement, and additional maneuvers only make them slightly worse. I tell my students that each painting is a collection of missteps and corrections, and that with every new canvas a painter learns a new way to accept defeat. But defeat does not mean discouragement. It means that new territories of experience and expression still await. A perfect painting means that exploration has come to an end.
I also tell them that painting a landscape usually involves more problems than changing light, fickle weather and attacks by bugs: a plein air painter is often beset by bystanders who comment on the work in progress and share their viewpoints about their lives, religion, politics, and art. They persist unless discouraged. On Friday I resorted to a desperate measure to fend off three onlookers and was partially successful.
I was painting a patch of grass in the left foreground when I heard the sounds of a motor and a radio approaching. A weather beaten man with one lone tooth in his upper jaw who wore a baseball cap, shorts and a tee shirt pushed a mower slowly toward me. Reuben stopped to look at the painting, but didn’t turn off his radio or the motor as he told me about his attempts at painting and photography. He had a thick accent, and what with the background noise I had trouble understanding everything he said, but managed to pick out a few of the major points. The man said that he had several regular customers in the neighborhood and helped them with their gardens as well. Reuben enjoyed working as him own boss in the outdoors as it gave him time to appreciate the beauty he saw everywhere around him. A recent sunset moved him so much that he took a picture of the red and purple tinged clouds above a glowing horizon. And then Reuben knocked on the door of a nearby house, showed a befuddled stranger his picture, and pulled his victim out onto the lawn to make him look at the splendor of nature.
He had used up the memory in his phone and now carried a small digital camera to continue taking his photos. With practice and persistence he had developed a sense of composition that allowed him to isolate the most choice elements in the landscape. Now when he snapped a picture he framed hidden beauty in such a way that it revealed itself to his viewers.
Reuben also told me that he had financial difficulties and lived in a rented room a few blocks away, but that his life had grown so much richer now that he lived a simpler life. I didn’t cut him off because he kept saying things about life and art that agreed with my own observations, because it would have been wrong to interrupt his joyous flow, and because the man had a huge need to unburden his thoughts to a willing (and/or unwilling) audience. After 20 minutes, however, I began to use a Buddhist practice of following my breaths to help me remain patient. He had begun to repeat himself, and I feared that the sun would set before Reuben finished his harangue. Thankfully he walked on after he had taken three or four selfies with me and my landscape, and had apologized at least five time for taking up my time.
I painted a bit more after he left, but decided to go inside for a drink of water. I remembered that I had a cigar on my dresser, a Christmas present from my daughter’s fiance’. I took it outside with me and lit up. Reuben returned pushing his mower just as I arrived at my easel. He grinned and said, “I bet you’re smoking that to keep me moving on.” I smiled and said nothing but thought, “Damn right!”
A man in a pick up truck pulled up a bit later and asked me what I was painting. I pointed down the street to my view, and he looked at the painting on my easel. He seemed surprised, gave me a compliment or two, told me he lived just down the block and promised to return later. I puffed on my cigar and hoped that he would not. He drove away, but swung back around the corner a half hour later and pulled up in his driveway two houses up the cross street. He did not come back for a chat. “Good cigar,” I thought.
A young woman stopped her car beside me just as I began to place a few touches on the clouds above a tree. She asked me if I were a professional, and I said, “Yes, and I teach painting and drawing at Crealde School of Art and Valencia.” She said, “I take classes at Valencia. What’s your name?” I told her and said that our department was a good place to study. She seemed bright and pleasant, but light was fading and it was time for me to pack up and start supper. I puffed on my cigar. A cloud of smoke drifted in her direction, and she fled before she was engulfed.
Later that night I sent a message to my daughter on Facebook. I told her that her boyfriend’s gift, a Quorum Shade from Nicaragua, was much appreciated. And then I looked up cigar stores online to see if a local shop sold them. I’m thinking about starting a series of landscapes in my neighborhood and may have to stock up.