Saturday, September 5, 2009

Where to Shop for That Extra Talent

Philip Koch, Pamet River, Evening, pastel, 5 x 10", 2009

Philip Koch, Pamet River, Evening, pastel, 5 x 10", 2009

The biggest lesson I learned from my father was  what not to do with your life. He'd have been pleased by this.

My dad was an optical physicist and was hired by Eastman Kodak to run his own research projects. He loved the laboratory. Early on though his boss died and he was drafted by Kodak to stop his own research and instead become an administrator overseeing the work of the other scientists. He was miserable. By nature a dutiful person, probably to a fault, he had a wife and three children to support and stayed on in the post as the salary was too good to walk away from.

He survived by dreaming of what he'd do in his retirement. It would bring a large sailboat and long voyages. Before he was married he'd gone around the world on a "tramp steamer" as he called it. Though he wasn't a talkative man, if asked he'd tell me stories about his adventures on that trip.  I'd notice a rare spark steal into his eye. (My favorite story was the time when alone in a Borneo jungle he was confronted by a huge ape). He seriously speculated about sailing around the world. I knew there was a romantic soul to this guy, it just didn't come out much.

The dream of his retirement plan sustained him some, but at age 48 he contracted lung cancer and died the following year. Watching this unfold as a 12 year old boy, I realized Dad would have made very different choices had he to do things over again. And from that point on I resolved not to defer my dreams to a distant and uncertain future. I know he'd approve of my "impractical" career choice.

I got another big thing from my dad. He was extremely methodical. When I was 4 he decided we needed a coffee table and set about building one. He had had no woodworking experience previously but tinkered around with building elaborate jigs to hold a rented drill at just the right angle to make holes for the legs in the 2" think oak plank he had laminated together. It's a sensitive design and sturdy enough to survive a nuclear blast. My feet are resting on it now in my studio. Other than my paintings, it is my most treasured possession.

Watching the table come together as a boy I was convinced I was witnessing magic. He taught me a great lesson in how a vision in the mind's eye can be methodically brought into being with patience and some resourceful resolve. His self-taught workmanlike skills rubbed off on me and have saved my neck time after time with solving troublesome paintings.

Above are two pastels- small color studies I did from on of my vine charcoal landscapes. Often, I'll do two or three of the same design at once (a gesture to my dad's methodicalness) to experiment and see which chords of color work best. If you do two or three of them, one has to be the best. If you do only one, you're never sure.

In everyone's family there are relatives who may live only partially revealing hidden strengths. Reflect on them and see if you can't bring some of their strengths into your own life. My dad knew nothing of painting, but of all my close relatives, he taught me the most about being an artist.

1 comment:

  1. A lovely post--I'm enjoying these personal reflections!