Where is my mother, just when we need her to be here with a dish-towel in hand, lurking behind painters, ready to pounce and wipe, whenever drips course down paintings in progress?
Scenario: On the patio, I have set up my easel, canvas, buckets of water, upturned plant pots to serve as places to rest paint tubes, brushes, rags, the ubiquitous cup of cold coffee, my ashtray and other necessities for painting uninterrupted for a morning. Mother materializes, unannounced and unexpected, at the corner of the house near the garden gate.
“Hi!” she says, “what are you doing this morning? I just thought to drop by and visit you.” ( She lives three miles away, and has walked the distance without calling ahead!)
“Oh, I’m painting this morning. Gotta get this painting off to a good start. Grab a coffee and come sit,” I suggest, meanwhile trying to contain my irritation with this unwelcome interruption.
I mix a good quantity of fluid acrylic, start to lay in divisions , forms and tonal areas. Mother comes out the patio door, and, heaving a showy sigh, arranges herself in a nearby rickety lawnchair, in the shade of the roof overhang. She watches in silence for a while, then goes back inside. I carry on laying in broad marks on the canvas, change my mind, wipe out and resume building the understructure. A workable design begins to emerge. Also does mother, back on the patio again, toting a dish-towel. With noisy ceremony she resumes her perch on the lawn chair and mutters, “oh dear”.
“What? What?” I ask, gritting my teeth.
“You are making such a mess of that painting,” she grouses. “look at all those drips!” She leaps us from her seat and advances with the dish-towel clenched in her hand. Elbows me aside. Begins to carefully wipe all areas on the canvas where drips are coursing down.
I am stunned into silence, then into a realization that the poor dear is merely trying to save me from that dreadful painterly cliche – drips. On the other hand, maybe she is merely keeping up her practice of tidying me and my messes. Whatever! I start to giggle and snort, not only because this is so funny a situation, but also to hide my mounting frustration.
So where was Mother, or her spirit, when the numerous painters in last night’s art opening were in the midst of their painterly labours creating cliche after painterly cliche. And not just of technique, full of drips and artful ‘fuzzification’, but also of flourishes of brush which hid their inability to draw believable forms. Then of course, one must also not mention the pot-boiler character of the images, the flabby landscapes, romantic strollers on the beach, and unremarkable still lifes of wine bottle, wine glass and flowers in a vase.
I guess, because so many drips were left frozen in spot alongside attempts at bravura brushwork, so that paintings looked as if done in a fit of painterly passion and urgency, these paintings would be elevated from “bad” Impressionist paintings to “contemporary” Impressionist ones. The original Impressionists must be rotating in their graves!
Martha and I attended this opening. Rumpole declined to accompany us tonight. There was a good crowd sipping wine, eating canapes, gawking and chatting. A good deal of reverence emanated from the crowd. After all, the venue was the lounge of a golf course club-house, quite toney.
I crept around the perimeter of the show with my nose near the paintings. Martha schmoozed. The work of eight painters was on show, but damn me, with a couple of exceptions, most of the paintings might have been done by one person. It felt a bit like landing in an exhibition and sale of the kind of work made by a painting mill. One where one person painted skies, then passed off the canvas to the next guy for him/her to paint the trees, and so on.
I grabbed a brochure to see what was up. Of course, this was all from a studio of acolytes and hangers on of a Luminary of contemporary Impressionism. Yes, Luminary was capitalized. The brochure was full of bad grammar, hyperbole and reverent mention of the influence of Pino and Nikolai Fechin. The name of Monet, if not the spirit, was invoked. Ah, so!
When we got back to my house, Rumpole poured us a cup of coffee. “So, how was the show?”he asked innocently.
“It was very well attended” announced Martha.
‘Lots of artful drips” I added, “but they could sure have used Mother and the dish-towel to sop up some of the excesses.”