“If you find it that horrible to do paintings for other people, why don’t you ever do any for you?”
I don’t recall saying I found it horrible. I may have said I found myself horrible during the process of painting a gift for someone. There’s the added pressure (self-imposed) of making sure you’re not handing over something that will insult the other person. “Here, it’s your birthday, have this ugly purple blob of paint.” Wouldn’t it be awful to see the look upon their faces as they think, “Um, what the fuck?” Not that any of my friends would behave that way, it’s just the way my mind works. It’s part of my damaged bits.
OK, fine, I may slightly recall saying I found it horrible… But by the same token, I don’t care to do any for myself. I began one last year that I haven’t touched in at least six months. It’s a large monstrosity that keeps getting moved about my house because my college son needs the space in his room when he visits, and, in my infinite wisdom, I chose to begin a painting that’s massive. The canvas is behind me as I type this – shouting, “You’re a bit of a failure as a painter, too!”
My last painting was a gift. I had written about it previously. I finally completed it, and, stupidly cut it close. I’d decided I would hand-deliver it to my friend when I met her in NYC last month. The problem began when I decided this shortly before my trip. As it was oil, with thick strokes, it took that much longer to dry. The subject was a beloved pet, and, as such, it should actually resemble the creature. You can’t fudge something like you can when it’s a landscape. The eyes kind of need to go in the proper spot. Bushes? Meh, you can move those around. Eyes? Not so much. Days before I was to leave, I decided the bird’s beak wasn’t quite right, so I picked up the painting, and stuck my finger directly into his wing feathers. What? Why were they still wet? NIGHTMARE! I won’t go into details but by the time I got done messing with the bird’s beak, the painting sat on the floor in my room with direct sunlight and a fan blaring down on it for days.
It all worked out in the end – which is such a rare occurrence for me. I packed it in a shoe box and, days later, had the extreme pleasure for only the third time in my life of hand-delivering one of my paintings.
So why, then, don’t I paint more? I’d imagine for the same reason I don’t work on my manuscripts more. I begin, see my work, get disgusted, and stop. When I paint for others, it has a purpose. To please them. To let them know for that amount of time I was thinking of them, they’re important to me, and I’m grateful to be a tiny part of their lives.
This large canvas behind me is for me. It seems like a strange gesture to paint something for me. What is the point of letting me know I was thinking of me when I spend far too much of my time contemplating me as it is? It’s absurd, when you think about it. I’m not too terribly grateful to be a part of my life.
Oh, don’t worry. I’ll finish the canvas because I feel it’s important for my boys to see that their mother is capable of finishing things still. The first manuscript that took 5 years (the one resting comfortably with my agent?) hasn’t completely broken me.
I’ll finish the painting because I want my youngest son to have a reminder of our wonderful Scotland trip.
I’ll finish the goddamn thing so I have a piece to hang in that weird half-wall space in my living room.
I’ll finish the bloody canvas because I don’t want my Del Mar painting (which is everybody’s favorite) to be my last big work. It touches me that so many of my friends like that one. It’s the most important piece I’ve ever done. Completed and shipped in 2009, it was the one I had most wanted to hand-deliver. Ironically, the person who always droned on about how I needed to “compartmentalize” and how getting me to do so was a bit like pushing jelly up a hill, would be proud to know I’ve succeeded in some small measure since that day. You see, I no longer have anything to compartmentalize. My compartments are empty. Clearly, the only time I’ve ever traveled light…
I will finish this fucking painting so I have something to stuff in one of my compartments, how’s that?