Thursday, April 9, 2020

Forgetting to Remember - The Walls Inside Part 2

In my last post I wrote that I sometimes hang my own paintings on my bedroom wall so I can consider unfinished thoughts they embody or because they are positioned between what I made and what I will make next. I do not hang a painting I made on my wall because I think it is some amazing thing. 

I painted this acrylic painting on paper (48 x 56 inches) years after spending an evening in the Piazza del Popolo with Jake and Laura. It was the night Jake and I arrived in Rome, my first trip abroad. When I painted it, the time and place I was thinking back on (fifteen or so years before, the Piazza del Popolo, Rome, Italy) seemed to belong to someone else. And now the time and place I painted it (maybe five years ago here in New Orleans), seems to belong to someone else as well.

Is the subject of the painting a tree and some sky or is the subject something else? Is the subject Returning? After all, I directed Google Street View here and not somewhere new and not somewhere I was planning to go. Click by click I returned to circle the piazza, where I spent one evening fifteen or so years before.

I hung this painting on my wall so I could look at it again, so I could answer the questions it poses and get on to other things. It occurs to me that I have only looked at this painting peripherally since hanging it on my wall. Looking at it now is not so pleasant.

There is a wrinkle, two actually near the top of the paper. They were made when my son, two or three years old at the time, fell on the painting, which was rolled up and somewhere safe I thought. There was confusion on his face when he saw that my concern was for the painting rather than him. I had seen immediately that he was not hurt, but he was used to see me orbit him, a planet with no name, little gravity of my own. Even if he had gotten a bruise, it would be healed and forgotten by now as he has forgotten this moment. But the wrinkle in the painting is still there.

The wrinkle was there when I included this painting in a casual little show in a gallery that would be home to an artist collective for a few years. The space had just been converted from a daycare to a gallery with several small studios for rent in the back and it was walking distance from my house. I would have a studio in that building, various spaces actually, four in all, over the next few few years, but I would not join the collective. When we hung the show I pointed out the wrinkle to one of the other artists. “I sort of like it, she said about the wrinkle.” She followed up with a reason but it was not interesting to me. That comment has stuck with me and annoyed me and it has outlived the gallery, the studios, and my knowing this person. It doesn't really matter that there is a wrinkle in this painting but it certainly wasn't and isn't some good thing. It is funny that this wrinkle, this scar in the paper, has become such a significant landmark in this painting which is not significant. 

The wrinkle is not what makes looking at this painting now, writing about it, sort of unpleasant. Is there a significance to this painting on my wall? Is there a thought or a story behind it? Is it about Jake and Rome and retracing steps, in rummaging in the past? Is it about painting on paper rather than canvas, about working on a new scale and having that experiment cut short when I had to move out of the studio the in the middle of a life upheaval that required all of my resources? It strikes me as funny now that the dominant backstory of this painting seems to be about a wrinkle, an inconsiderate toddler and the tenacity of identity, a comment that for some reason has bothered me for years.

This painting on paper (and not on canvas stretched on the posh custom stretchers that left my studio with everything else in the back of my friend's pickup truck in the wake of a life upheaval) does not asked to be considered important. The painting asserts itself only as a passing thought, and not an idea or belief. There is something immediate in the image I painted. It is also awkward. The perspective follows the Google Street View fisheye lens, which I raised upward above the concerns of map navigation to see the top of that poplar tree.
Just as the view overlooking the Mediterranean (in the painting on the opposite wall) was not about David, this painting is not about Jake. But Jake is there somewhere, isn’t he? 

In the Piazza del Popolo there are four statues, personifications of the seasons of the year. In Google Street View, years after leaving Rome, I circled the piazza click by click as one circles the years and then stopped at the spot where we sat on a bench drinking red wine, Jake and Laura and I. I turned the virtual gaze upward as I turn my physical gaze upward to wonder about this thing that is hanging on my wall. What did I want to remember to think about later? Is there something I am forgetting to remember?

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