In the Studio
I am going to clear out my studio today. I promise. It has just started raining, a gentle spring shower that will keep me in and undistracted by what is going on in the garden. I have just finished a painting or think I have finished it…but the total disorder that only now disturbs me – as if I were a different person than the one who left the floor strewn with rags, dripped wax all over the place, scattered capless tubes of pigment, and left books open face down – is a distraction that won’t let me see what my efforts look like. I move back, the same way I did while I was working a few minutes ago, but now it is even harder to see.
Part of the problem is the process I use. Wax is melted in a double boiler used by restaurants for preparing pasta and contained in stainless steel pots that I alternate while painting. Everything takes place very quickly before the wax hardens. I use wooden panels and a good part of my painting takes place on the floor. When I see an image appear, I prop the painting on an easel. That way I can move freely away to see if it looks right from a distance or move very close to see if it has a the surface qualities I like. Very often, while I am waiting for the wax to heat, I pick up a something to read or start modeling a figure or working on a drawing, but everything is dropped once the wax is ready.
This makes me think. The process an artist uses is by no means a matter of efficiency or technical ability alone. Not even both factors together would explain what goes on in the studio, which always remains somewhat unpenetrable, and at the same time uniquely itself. For example, there are the movements required for stepping over instead of into the painting, the music that supports this dance, the wax harvested from the bees in the garden, the rare pigment found in a restorer’s shop in Rome. The friends you were thinking of while you were working.
And this last thought. In the real world you live in a specific place. But in your studio you can inhabit – you must inhabit – many different worlds, invoke a variety of companions without regard for time or distance. While this might not be the point in painting, it must be at least one of the reasons people make art. Not long ago I stood in front of a work of mine I hadn’t seen for twenty years and there they were: some fragments of Scarlatti played by Glen Gould, a meeting with a son’s teacher, an abandoned kitten, and some lines by Wallace Stevens:
Soldier, there is a war between the mind
And sky, between thought and day and night. It is
For that the poet is always in the sun,
Patches the moon together in his room
to his Virgilian cadences, up down,
Up down. It is a war that never ends.
(Notes Toward a Supreme Fiction; Cummington Press, 1942).
Now while I try to create order in the disparate objects distributed over every horizontal plane, a new source of confusion invades the space. Outside, the sun has just emerged through a hole in the dark grey sky. Inside, rays of light penetrate the darkness making a golden mosaic of everything and, into this new opus, my painting has completely disappeared.