Monday, September 7, 2009

Isabella, Cat and Art Instructor




This is Isabella. She's my neighbor Seanah's beautiful all-white cat. Here she is in my garden, just feet away from the bird feeder I fill every morning. She spends hours every day hiding in the bushes in my front yard. The welfare of the avian visitors to the bird feeder is low on her list. 

We artists can learn a great deal from animals. I've watched Isabella grow up from kittenhood. From the get-go she wanted to kill birds but her early attempts were comical. She'd lunge at everything that moved and despite being lightning fast, caught nothing. No doubt she had dreams of hunting conquest, but lacked the understanding to make them happen.

But she's nothing if not persistent and after years of trial and error, she's a changed cat. She's learned the art of concealment and above all, how to wait for the best opportunities before striking. Sometimes her teeth chatter in excitement as she spies potential prey, but otherwise she's got the patience of a zen master. Incredibly focused,  she tunes out all distractions. Most of all she waits until the birds come hopping within striking distance.. You can imagine her visualizing her leap and picturing exactly how far she can lunge in just one move. She knows her ability and works with it. Her dream of cat grandeur however remains intact.

Artists are all about having dreams. Our task is, like Isabella's, to work our own way through trial and error to concrete steps toward the vision we want to paint. Isabella's early dreams probably were to kill all the birds. Now she's shaved that down to just a select few. When I was a young artist I wanted to paint everything- abstractions, 3D canvases, portraits, social realist murals, and surrealism- all in the same week. Like kitten Isabella, my efforts weren't very fruitful.

Eventually things began to gel for me as the image of the sunlight gracing the forests and the sea took center stage in my imagination. It's been the central concern pretty much since the fall of 1970. You could say my choice of landscape painting is a tip of the hat to Isabella's selectivity. 

A painting can't be about everything. As you paint hundreds of shapes will demand your attention,  each tempting you to make it a focal point of the painting. But given enough time reflecting on the painting, you can sort through the opportunities and judge which are the best to spotlight for the viewer. Many times I've taken a break from the studio when I'm confused by a difficult passage. I go out and watch Isabella in the garden. She's usually at her post, waiting patiently and sorting through her possibilities.




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