Thursday, May 7, 2020

Sugar, it's Emily.

I have been looking at my old artwork (and newer artwork) on the walls of my room. After a gap–full of over-thinking, a day-job, home-schooling, avoiding complicated feelings–in which my walls remained blank, I put an old painting on the large wall. I wrote about this in my last post. Then, I looked through a box of small drawings and set two aside. One is a self portrait (sunbathing) I made sixteen years ago when I was living in France and as alone as I am now, in a stretch of time, which like now, seemed occasionally to stand still. There were empty hours of the day and sometimes I would go on my little terrace and lie in the sun. The other painting is a portrait of Sugar made from a snapshot taken in our shared kitchen on Jewel Street in Brooklyn. That was fifteen years ago.I taped the drawing of Sugar on the wall next to my self portrait from the year before we met.

I made about thirty self-portraits in acrylic paint on typing paper from photographs taken on my first digital camera, which had a screen that swung out for taking what weren't yet called selfies. I have never liked having my picture taken because looking at the result was always kind of spooky. The person I saw in photographs did not resemble me, the person looking outward. I took these photographs the way I talk to myself aloud when I am alone for thirty hours or more, for the company, I guess. In France, alone with my digital camera, I had the idea that I could cure my photo-phobia (Scopophobia, scoptophobia, or ophthalmophobia). If I could become accustomed to how I looked in photographs, I would no longer feel strange seeing them. To some degree it worked. I don't think any these paintings really look like me but they look like the photographs I took. And they feel like me, feel like I remember feeling, quiet and alone, for better and worse. I can remember vividly the sun on my skin, the little terrace outside my borrowed studio apartment, outside a little village in Provence. I can see the heat of the sun on my face in the painting. 

This is Sugar. When I moved back from France I went to New York. I found a room in an shared apartment in Greenpoint. I wanted to learn Polish, had been studying a little, and so moving in with four or five or six Polish men and the wife of one of the men seemed perfect. I had a room in which I could paint and sleep and sit at a small round table and drink one Brooklyn Lager in the evening. I got along fine with most of the roommates but Sugar and I became friends. It was a friendship that happened in the smallest of margins of two lives that barely overlapped. In the evenings I would knock on Sugar's door with a frequency or manner that made me think of that line from The Royal Tenenbaums "Sugar, it's Eli." I would say "Sugar it's Emily." in Owen Wilson's voice. I wouldn't have guessed I would know Sugar fifteen years later. I used to prefer to live with strangers and not so that I could make life-long friends.

Now, I see Sugar in the apartment taking my door off the hinges to use as a table for our Christmas dinner. I see us playing baseball in McCarren Park on Easter, the Polish boys shouting Do domu! Do domu!, go home, go home, the spring I was falling in love. Sugar came Upstate to the party to celebrate my marriage and I have a photograph of Sugar holding my son after we had moved to New Orleans. From the window of his second floor apartment in Queens, I see Sugar below playing with my children in the fresh new snow, their first sight ever of snow, their first trip back to New York since the divorce. We have gone years without seeing each other but Sugar has been there for events in my life and has still been there after they ended. Sugar always leaves me voicemails on holidays, on my birthdays, long, strangely formal messages I always save. He wishes me love and money and health and happiness.

I look at these drawings now to think about painting and art, and what I will draw or paint next but I think of other things. This is the way life has always distracted me from art. I call Sugar to say hello, to say I am thinking about him. He is already at LaGuardia working on the new terminal. I want to tell him that I ordered electrical tools and watched YouTube videos and fixed my washing machine. But really I want to say Sugar, where we are going? Why has everything changed? Why has nothing changed? I want to ask him something I couldn't find words for and he probably doesn't know.

What did I want these drawings to tell me? What did I want Sugar to tell me on the phone? I don't know. When I would knock on his door in in our apartment on Jewel Street, I didn't necessarily know then either. Chcesch herbat
ę? Want tea?  Maybe I was just taking a break from making some painting that wouldn't mean much in the long run either. We don't usually understand the meaning of things we do, of the things we make, but at some point they should point to something, shouldn't they? The art is the record that we witnessed our lives as did our friends. Maybe these drawings just say: this is how you lived and made art, this is someone you knew and know, someone you were and are. They say, this was me and this was Sugar, moving unbelievably fast and standing perfectly still. 

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