Saturday December 14th 2013
Open Studio at the Old Log House at Nepenthe
My paintings, Chi’s drawings, Emily’s Creations (from doodles to hand painted scarves and so much more!)
and other family textiles.
Chopping up the ends of sour dough loaves this morning to freeze for croutons, I recalled my grandmother Lolly so strongly it was as though I were watching her strong hands press down on the tang of the blade, and her hands cupping the crumbs and sweeping them across the counter into the waiting bag.
Food on the verge – not to be wasted but to be re-used in some new creative recipe never before tested or tasted. A kind of hallmark of the kind of cooking that is not “cooking” in the trendy chef sort of way – but the kind of cooking for a family, or a crew, that we grew up with here at Nepenthe.
Bananas at peak would be mashed into pancake batter. Now I freeze them (first peeling them and wrapping them in plastic) and use them in smoothies. Perfectly good bread that won’t get eaten because a new loaf is fresh on the table – I’ll slice, chop, and freeze for a casserole’s crumble, or a salad’s crouton crunch.
What else? Ends of beef and pork roasts saved to simmer with onions, garlic, a splash of wine – the beginning of a new hearty soup.
Even food receptacles were cherished. An early childhood job was soaking wine bottles to remove their labels. The windows in the family kitchen were lined with old bottles cleaned in just this way, deep greens and burgundy glass ranging along each sill. I remember once realizing that the bottle I was scrubbing might be worthy of adding to Lolly’s window collection and I scrubbed even harder at the thought.
Can I admit here that it was I, at the age of 14, who threw out all the Prep Kitchen Soup recipes? Chicken Tortilla Soup, Mexicali Bean, Vegetable Barley . . . my thinking, such as it was, that if I could make these recipes, you didn’t need a recipe.
Chopping bread this morning, I thought of these recipes of food “on the verge” that we valued more then, because money was hard to come by, shopping trips to town few and far between, and the effort of creating food greater. I value bread higher because I baked it – kneaded it – waited for it to rise – watched over the starter like an anxious mother – coaxed yeast out of the air with a magical concoction of water, pineapple juice and organic flour that needed constant attention. Each slice has a value, to me, because it has a lot of me in it
I like to paint in a certain kind of way, getting in and getting out and moving on.
Sometimes, though, a painting refuses to allow me to get out of it. It stares me down and requires me to go away and come back again and again and again.
Sometimes I go away and never come back. Paintings that have outwitted me in this way are piled in cupboards, boxes, behind bins of other paintings.
Today I resumed work on a painting that was so large (4′ x 5′) and so almost there that I felt any moment I would be standing back and saying, “there it is!” and feeling like I had won the day.
But – I had felt that the day before, also, when I had gone back in to this very same painting and had ended the day feeling defeated.
“I think I might have to break it,” I said to Tom as he was loading up the car to head into town. His day, too, will be revisiting a lot of unfinished business, and he seemed to know what I meant as he laughed consolingly and then went on his way
Part of breaking the painting is understanding that I am attached to some thing or things in the painting that are keeping me from getting on with the work.
Part of breaking the painting means letting go of those little darling moments that I find so captivating when my nose is up close and personal with the work, those gestures and colors and strokes and happenings that simply don’t read from a distance.
Breaking the painting means, in the words of Stephen King, you must be willing to “kill the little darlings.” To regain the integrity of the whole, to recover the plot, to get back to the big statement.
After dilly dallying this morning, finally I broke out the big brushes and just went for it, simplifying the forms, thinking about value (light-dark) and the color harmony that had inspired me in the first place, painting over in broad strokes huge numbers of highlights and glittering trees, frothy waves and illuminated cloud formations. The wonderful and weird viridian green/white had to go, relinquishing its screaming dominance to the softer story of the lavender hills, light cobalt skies, deep greens of oak and redwood at dawn.
Hints of what came before continue to inform the new layers of paint. Again and again I walked away, standing across the room, looking, looking away, looking back, looking away.
At some point, I felt like something very tight in my chest loosened. I could breathe again. The painting was breathing again.
I cracked it open – and let go of what it could not become.
Maybe it’s like Leonard Cohen’s song, Forget Your Perfect Offering, “There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.”