Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Gov't Work

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

I do not like Black Eyes and Peas…

I'm Chardin!

I'm sitting in a folding chair that we're storing for my grandmother, her cardtable in front of me. A bare bulb torch hangs from the unfinished ceiling of the unfinished basement room. Through the surrounding darkness lurks a background of boxes seldom jostled since our move from Illinois five years previous. It's 1981, and I'm doing my homework. I'm painting a still life set out before me, carefully arranged a way I imagine Jean Baptiste Chardin would have fancied. A bowl, a towel and teacup, a few things from the market. As I envision it, the towel will fall across the marble worktable, the wine bottle blend into the hazy dark of the background. But the harsh light is betraying my fantasy. The props, what are found in my kitchen, don't seem to take to the Old Master treatment. It's cold down here, but by now the pork ribs, despite their hermetic seal, have turned a gray-green, and are arousing suspicion from the rest of the household (a dead mouse? That's what I had found in my turpentine-filled coffee can the day before—and it didn't smell like this.) The colors are brighter than I was after; the plastic of the lemon and lime have a different sheen the real thing, the screen print design on the terrycloth not as subtle as the patterned cloth found in domestic French life during back in the day of Louis XV. Not that I really thought it would, but I imagined I could transform these kitchy bits into a convincing Chardin pastiche. That's the joke, right? The marble turns to Formica.
I was disappointed at the final result–the objects have no atmospheric relationship, I visibly improved my stripe-painting moving from right to left–but there is something about this painting that has held my fancy all these years. For all it's artifice, it's a strikingly honest picture. The scene is there for all, glaring in it's realism. Caught in the flashlight beam. It's the way I painted at that moment, the way I looked at the things, the way I thought about things. It's a still life, life frozen, a delicately chilled memory. I relive part of that memory every time I look at it
I can hear through the cardboard wall behind the shelves of canned goods a laugh track chuckling at "Barney Miller." Time to let this set a bit. I get up, clanging a cheap cymbal as I squeeze past my drumkit, and venture out to sit with my Dad and have some Bugles and a Pepsi.