Saturday, May 02, 2015

I'm Painting Again

When I was young, and believed that I thought I might like to be an artist when I grew up, Part of this impetus came from the support of my parents who seemed to enjoy the scribbles I made that eventually turned into the selection of Studio Art as a major when I finally packed up and went off to college. The other major influence on that decision was Joe.
Our family friend. The guy who came with us to dinner. The guy with the basset hound named Mister. The guy who I was told worked feverishly in a studio but always seemed to me as if he was on his way to a cocktail party. The guy whose laugh would fill small rooms and loud restaurants. That guy. Joe. He's gone and he won't be forgotten. Not by me or anyone in my family.
Part of this is because of the body of work he left behind. At one time, my parents' house served as an unofficial gallery for his woodcut prints. It never occurred to me at the time just how special a distinction this was. Living in a home filled with original art, signed by the artist was a luxury I didn't consider as I ran up and down the stairway on my way to dinner. Yes, it was a beautiful print of the Mission at San Luis Obispo, but it was suppertime and my little brother was in front of me. I couldn't stop and ponder this framed moment while I was climbing over him to get to the table first. I can see it clearly in my mind's eye now. It is a very accurate depiction of the mission that is located in the city where my son will be going off to college. I can't stop to think too much about the significance of this omen, since he also did woodcuts of a Quena player and an interesting vacuum-formed plastic portrait of a Native American. We, as family friends, received a generous helping of his prints, sometimes on a trial basis, sometimes on permanent loan.
That was great, but mostly I will remember the hand-painted sign he made for our cabin, the front porch of which he sat on countless summer afternoons, smoking cigarettes and sipping at a beer or two. He made the sign for my parents, who had puzzled mightily for some time after the construction of our mountain hideaway, and they needed just the right name to affix to the entryway. Whispering Pines or Eagle's Nest or even Caven's Cave would all have made fine titles for someone else's summer retreat. Joe was the one who correctly identified the correct name out of the dozens that were discussed. "Where do you tell people you're going," he asked us. "To the cabin," we replied. And that is what he lovingly lettered on a six by eighteen piece of varnished plywood: "The Cabin." Every summer and any other occasion that we found ourselves going up to the hills to get away, the first thing we did to christen our stay was to hang that sign out over the stairway leading to the front porch.
Joe is gone now, having spent many years after that making art and homes and adopting dogs, but he will always be that bald head, sunglasses, beard and rafter-shaking laugh. He made art. He stomped on the Terra. Aloha, Joe.

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