Sunday, March 25, 2012

Lessons In Pigment---PART ONE

Oakland, Fall 2005

I quickly shuffled up the outdoor, wooden staircase.  My heart kept a nervous rhythm as I entered the lofty studio.  Bathtub-sized skylights drenched the room in California sunshine.  Empty easels circled like wagons around a platform.  My tendency for promptness hadn't failed me my today, but I preferred to speak to the professor without other students around, anyway. 

He was shortish, middle-aged, and his untucked polo shirt draped over his plump belly.  I asked him if we were required to paint with oils in this class.  He stared back at me through round lenses as I fumbled a blustery explanation that I was in my first trimester and preferred a less toxic medium.  I knew that the glazed expression frozen on his face wasn't in response to my articulating a health requirement in a population that prided itself in being a paradigm of healthy living.  My being pregnant was much more problematic.  Still, he congenially explained that we could paint with our preferred medium, and we could paint whatever we wanted.  Furthermore, he generously opened tall doors which unfolded onto a balcony overlooking the city.  Pine trees lined one side of the studio and their fallen needles carpeted the ground below.  I chose an easel near the breeze and squeezed paint dollops in a circular formation on my palette.  Once the live model disrobed, I fumbled with my watercolors in hesitant and futile attempts to capture her grace.

The professor made rounds stopping at each easel.  He commented on the students' work, chatted, and asked questions not necessarily pertaining to their work.  His unabashed directness made me queasy.  Each sentence was like a bolt of lightening turning the world on end.  His candor caught me off guard, but my fellow students who were 7 or 8 years younger devotedly chuckled at his snark and peculiar philosophies.  Standing behind me he asked whether I believed in abortion.  In our earlier conversation, I had let my insecurity surrounding my unplanned but very much desired pregnancy divulge the surprise nature of my situation.  Of course, I supported a woman's right to choose I answered, however, my husband and I want children.  This one happened to come a couple years ahead of schedule.  He replied with an "Oh, I see" and shuffled to the next easel leaving me reeling.  His reaction to my condition was utterly opposite of my other professors who offered their complete support and excitement.  If his goal was to provoke, he was succeeding.

At the end of class students dragged their chairs around the platform where the professor replaced the nude model.  He talked about the time he spent driving Rauschenberg around the Bay and claimed that he was a big drunk.  Was he really name dropping?  I sat with arms crossed doing my best to not roll my eyes.

We were to complete a painting a week painting six hours a day.  It was a summer course, and so it was condensed.  The intensity didn't bother me, but I was skeptical as to whether I'd learn much.  I walked the seven blocks uphill to the brown studio perched on stilts.  I left my watercolors at home deciding to abandon the live model and look inward.  I sketched a primitive shaped woman with a large womb which held nine babies representing the months on gestation.  It looked like a cross between a great goddess and a prenatal care poster.  On Friday during critique, a hipster student who curiously painted Felix the Cat amongst large dripping abstract environments, stated that my painting was too obvious.  She was right.
Oakland, Summer 2006


  1. You contrasted some powerful colors and images in this piece. The energy is palpable. I like it :)

    1. Thanks Nick! I have more parts to this story in my head. I hope I can pick up from where I left off and channel the same energy. In my best intentions, I was going to finish it during our car trip--HA!