the muse

This is a painting that I have been particularly reluctant to talk about, because I am always afraid of bastardizing a visual medium with lofty verbiage.  I am so fed up with artists putting literary meat on the emaciated frame of their work- if it’s wanting to be fleshed out, maybe I should paint better.  But, I have to be fair to the reader of this blog, in that I promised to be honest, thorough, and candid in describing my life and works.

Isaac Stern, the great violinist, writes the following in his memoirs:

“I remember taking the train to play a concert somewhere in Oregon or British Columbia.  I entered the dining car and saw an incredibly beautiful woman, with whom I fell instantly in love.  She wore slacks and a sweater, out of which rose an exquisite, unbelievable, swan-like neck.  She had big black eyes and was sitting demurely, eating breakfast.  She looked like nothing I had ever seen before in my life.  It was Vivien Leigh.  I didn’t dare speak to her.  I never saw her in person again.”

I guess that I did this painting as a sort of question, wondering what it feels like to be a Vivien Leigh.  I don’t know that Vivien liked having a snot nosed kid with a violin standing and staring at her, slack-jawed, for a few minutes.  It must be both flattering and annoying.  What is it like to be the epitome of something?  To be the most beautiful?  To be the best downhill skier, to be the most feared drug dealer, to be the richest coffee plantation owner in Nicaragua, to be Kurt Cobain?

I don’t often transgress into the realm of philosophy, but here I go:  this is a Platonic painting.  I’ve painted an essence, a pure and eternal form, in this case beauty, embodied.  This essence is looking at a pleasing emulation of itself, a realized form.  And the form returns the look, and contemplates the essence.  It’s a circular observation of oneself, an inward reflecting.  If you happen to be that essence, and people are sculpting you, what do you think about that sculpture?  What do you think about being sculpted?  What does that sculpted form think about you?  Would you prefer to be, um, unsculptable?  Would you like to be un-essenced?  Would you prefer to not be Vivien Leigh, so that you could eat your breakfast in peace?  Or, do you like having your most mundane activities admired by a host of marvelers?

Incidentally, my wife posed for this painting.  She was beautiful.  I painted this over the course of a week, and all the while I wondered, worried, if it at all bothered her to be painted.  Here Margaret is in a foreign country, baby running around the studio (hard to get a baby sitter for Liam in Italy), leaning up against a wall, staying absolutely still, trying to stay warm in a thin cotton dress (it was winter.)  My wife graduated suma cum laude from her university, she was the head of clubs and honor societies, played in orchestras, and here she is being valued as… an object?  There are portraits and paintings of Margaret all over Europe, she had a waiting list of artists.  Paintings of Margaret range from innumerable, awful studies by students, to several breathtaking paintings which, while still on the easel, were sold to high paying collectors from Munich, Florence, and London.  And Margaret kept on posing, just to earn us some money as I studied painting.

As the hours wore on and we artists worked away, I wondered what it was like to be painted.