MY BRUSH LIFE
by Jacek Gulla
6 of 8.
—–As long as his paintings remain in the working space with their author, they are his best guide in developing manner and theme. Like masters of the trade in the old day, we will not only continue working on them – Degas was known to repaint his ballerinas long after they hung in the Louvre, or Cezanne, he struggled to bring out of the same raw linen cubes of St. Victorie years into his fading sight – first of all they will dictate upon us, our work so far, what to do next with the brush, abandon it for conceptual, ephemeral experiment, or accept the niche, where epigones bask in faded glory, and paint for connoisseur, friend, rather than for investor.
—–I might have had left wrong impression, that my Mythology group is all that I amount to as NYC painter. That’s not the case. I am in possession of several other groupings, decades in the make and scope. NYC Night Life with confetti fire works and tribal dances. Drunken City, a narrative with perspective in sudden shifts, just as a drunk reveler sways, trips, gets up, his point of view along the way at gravity’s mercy. Souls of the City, like a red fire hydrant with solid brass crown above it, spikes up, that no man or bird ever dares sit on it, like the claustrophobic passage forwards, that the white cane negotiates for the blind in the rush hour midtown. Hanging Gardens, painted for beauty that’s in sorry lacking in our town and lives, Fifth Day of Creation and Fern’s Nocturnal Blossom for the centerpieces, light itself a martyr, this and that painting getting lost, repainted, and missing again, from my keep.
—–I call them theatrical, a freak show, tools and toys at war in day glows, as yet to be taken on, with either the brush in its fluency, or message in its subtlety or urgency, taking the lead canvas to canvas. To paint and draw simultaneously, with one seamless motion, much like the bow on violin strings, in a repetition-free narrative, or, rather, much like fencing for dear life with the canvas void, for the dear life of still objects, as was the story with Chardin, meditating on the skyless, dusty, tired scenes the Age of Enlightenment disclosed, a soap bubble for bursting in wash or play, or with van Gogh as he blazed with sunlight and absinthe, groping for holds, thistle explosions under bare feet – that’s how I lend my hand in services of beauty. My beauty isn’t the kind, that Beauty Salons provide, a la this or that fashion. Skies reflected in a littered puddle call my brush to the same quickness, with which I take leaps over them, but I must not miss the sorry truth, how skies, once a realm divine, have turned to space craft junk yard, our urban hour here below given to condoms, beer, syringes, whatever gutters carry. It is good if the painting looks better upside down, when purely formal aspect is contemplated. Depths serene, reflected next to some half submerged object in early sun light, should entertain the eye even more, when we do not quite read, what we stare at.
—–This unappetizing motif, urban puddles, has my brush busy long years. My brush’s true narrative, their beauty, is in how hypersensitive eye struggles for something worth seeing in everything it happens to look at. Imagine a gust of April wind bruised on the broken, discarded umbrella, and you are close to my ideal, if I were to paint myself a metaphoric self portrait.
—–Speaking of portraits. Portraits are one thing, and the likenesses, the kind Central Park craftsmen produce, is another. Let me help myself with following episode, to explain the difference. There was this evening class in EV, drawing from nudes, and I went there one winter, scared for my sanity, to examine how much still I was in touch with realities around me. The whole Village walked nude for a couple of us easels. Next to me worked two Orientals. Efficient and precise way beyond Ingres, they produced two, three identical studies for the same pose, but then, when they looked at my work, they went asking, where I see the beauty, that their perfect studies miss entirely, pointing unawares to the manner individual, how what’s seen is rendered. Not that I did the model any prettier, then she was, with her pimple over upper lip the way of cosmetic arts, but that in few airy lines I happened to enclose her youth flesh and soul, eye lids down on her fancy, Watteau’s folds of shines and shadows on her transparent.
—–If the portrait is a half way encounter, on the canvas, between the model and the artist, as it should be, it explains a great deal, why Rembrandt would age starved for paying commissions, and why Velasquez, producing likenesses of the King for the far flung corners of His dominion, never run short of them, many rushed on the next day terms, to be presented in countries still awaiting conquest, but never in the end to be taken.
—–Rembrandt portrays his sitters in light of divine grace, penetrating and forgiving, often through the very characteristics, that they would rather conceal, if they had a choice, whom the old drunk uses for Herod, and whom for Lazarus, in his biblical theatre. Velazquez is urbane. His characters are caught in act of self discovery, the light being that of the passing day, Venus with the Mirror a hymn to human marvel. They walk into painter’s studio unannounced, with a tale, drink, or to plea for alms, and Diego’s brush accords them welcome worth eternity of looking. The King is exception. It is the artist, who goes to royal studio, and not the King to his, if anyone had to go anywhere at all. It’s believed, and plausible, that the last several examples of the royal portraiture were produced from memory, the reason the so called curse of Hapsburgs with good Philip IV, if memory serves me well.
—–And this for the night cap! Whoever ever went for beers to Lucy’s in EV, they should remember the owner behind the bar. Her load of bleached curls resembles this of a Roman medusa in the Met classics. The portrait of her, that I’ve done years ago, catches Lucy at the smile, when the entrance door shuts behind a new client, a scelet welcoming you to your own funeral, 4. 50 a shot. The greens of La Gioconda, cig smoke for clouds, slick shadows to serve. It took me hundreds of entries into her joint, and the portrait gets better every time I give it a glance today. It’s her to the dot, our Lucy, is it for sale, I hear when I show the canvas around. But god forbid she should see the painting, Jacek, I hear in addition, obviously for the pain it would cause under curly wig load.