Here is the second of my two “prequels” to my first official post as Pfister Narrator, in which I will formally introduce myself and give thanks to those who have come before me. This prequel is also adapted from a sample blog post I submitted to the selection committee. “Window Seat” is inspired by a Saturday afternoon conversation I had with the new Pfister Artist-in-Residence Pamela Anderson.
Spring had finally arrived–at least for a few days–but instead of doing a long run in the 70-degree sun, I decided to wander into the Pfister to uncover a story. Luckily, the sun followed me into the lobby and down the hall to Pamela’s studio. Eager to meet my potential colleague, I was greeted both by geometric splashes of primary colors (can shapes be both geometric and splashes?) and by the kind, soft-spoken artist.
Our conversation delighted and incited (insighted?) me, so I reimagined her spoken words in the form of a written letter addressed to me, from her, two weeks prior, just before she began her one-year residency at the Pfister. For me, the art of letter writing is a dying art form, and since we talked so much about painterly and writerly voice, I wanted to hear her in a different way, from one of her favorite spots in the world: the window seat of an airplane.
Now that I know that I will indeed be working closely with her in the next twelve months, I look forward to writing her back.
April 1, 2016
I’m writing this from 28,000 feet. Soon, I will touch down on the hotel’s carpeted runway and disembark in my new studio-for-a-year. I haven’t met you yet, but I sense your imminent arrival at my doorway. From the window seat–a must-have when I travel–I am snapping photos real and imaginary. Right now, the sun guides the plane, a Catalan yellow sun the way Miró reimagined it (we’re actually over Lake Michigan right now, but my mind has traveled to Catalonia before). The clouds are high, muting the sky in a pastel blue that Diebenkorn would have appreciated (I’ve traveled to the west coast with him before). I’ve been around the world with painters past and present, Dominic, but would you believe that I’m only beginning to map my own voice now?
You will ask in a couple of weeks, “Did you not have a voice before?” Did you lose it? Can a painter, like a writer, have a voice? Don’t we all have one?
I certainly had a voice before. I’ve been mapping it all my life, just as you have been mapping yours, the contours of your inscape, the swirls of your unique fingerprint–that’s what voice is. Not necessarily something that can be heard or seen. It’s always inside us, but it’s about developing it. There’s so much in our world that we have access to visually, that for me, as a painter, finding that fingerprint has been difficult. It’s difficult for all of us, because we have this sense that it’s all been done before. You must feel the same as a writer.
Of course, I’ve been informed by–you can’t help it and there’s nothing wrong with it–the fluid landscapes of Diebenkorn and the geometrical, splashy fantasies of Miró, but I’ve remade myself so many times, all on my own. I didn’t go to school for art, but I did look and study on my own, collecting images and preferences from so many sources. And I played as a child, all the time. That was a key to my talent. If it was a brightly colored block or brick, or Lincoln Logs, or anything you could build with, I was creating something. I guess you could say I had a natural talent for seeing how things fit together and how they could fit together in new ways. But at some point in my life, perhaps after getting really good at painting floral scenes, I determined that I needed to be braver with my paintings.
That’s an interesting word, you will say, to describe art: “bravery.” It sounds like the stuff of heroes and soldiers and tightrope walkers. But if we are to transform ourselves and find our voices, then we will have to be brave, a word, I’m guessing you know, that comes from bravo, Italian for “bold and untamed.” So I’m trying to tap into moments that speak to me from 28,000 feet–I’m looking down now and see that Catalan sun reflect off the lake’s dark surface, creating lines of yellow, crests of white, the plane approaching the shoreline of emerging green fields (we’re south of the airport). An almost invisible line stretches across my view–the flight of a bird? An optical illusion? (To be truthful, I’ve already painted this, but it wasn’t of a Lake Michigan shoreline. It was something altogether different, intuited in a private conversation I was having with my world. In any case, I hope you’ll see it when I hang it in my Pfister studio.)
Another painting that will be in my studio when you visit me in a couple of weeks is an aerial landscape (you’re going to notice this right away, I’m thinking–we see with similar eyes): patches of primary colors like children’s blocks and elemental earth, the geometry of agriculture, the interruption of rivers, straight lines that partition (I see straight lines in nature–why?).
These paintings are informed, as I’ve said, by Diebenkorn and Miró and countless other artists, but I’m making them my own . . . I think, I hope. Sometimes I feel brave, other times not. You know that I applied for this position three times? That’s ok, though; I’m glad I didn’t receive the residency those other two times. I wasn’t ready. Of course it was validating to be a finalist, but once I validated myself, when I heard my own voice and said, “Hey, that’s me,” that is when I decided to apply one more time. Maybe that’s what “voice” is: that thing inside you that says/writes/paints/creates itself out of you and says, “Hey, I’m you.”
The plane is about to touch down. When you come to visit me, I’ll be wearing gentle black lace and I’ll speak with a soft voice, but you’ll also notice that I speak with large scraping tools, mops, and oversized paint brushes and that my massive paintings don’t have my signature on them. That’s because I’ve decided to be brave: to let my tools, whatever they may be, guide me and let my paintings reveal my voice. Many people get upset, in fact, when I don’t sign my paintings on the front. But I think it’s better when someone can say that they saw one of my paintings from across a room or even a block away and said to themselves “That’s a Pamela.”
That means my voice is being heard.
I wish you all the best as you find yours. And I look forward to meeting you.