The Painting that Packed Its Bag and Headed Out On A Journey of Its Own

Oil Painting by B. Smith  6″x8″

“ When I put the thick glistening gold paint on and watch the fine red thread of color migrate from the canvas back to an outstretched bristle of the brush and then see it collide with a tiny mound of blue violet edging the white lily of the painting, I know and feel why I paint. It’s the squealing in my soul, the physical flood of endorphins and the slow motion visual magic of mistakes turning towards magnificence…” Carole Watanabe, artist/business woman from The Ecstatic Marriage of Life and Art

As I am embarking on my journey as a professional artist, I soon had to learn that the painting above had a life of its own beyond the canvas, the paint, and the brush…and my own ideas. It all started with the quote above, and has evolved into a true story that is almost unbelievable.

After reading Carole Watanabe’s quote above, I decided I wanted to experience the sensuous feeling of brush and paints on the canvas that she described. Up until that moment, my experience with painting had been limited to the thrill of reproducing something with some degree of precision. There would be a lot of labor and frustration, then the joy of accomplishment. In contrast, for the above painting, I threw all to the wind like my free spirited mare, Mariah, has taught me to do, and decided to paint from a card sent to me many years ago. Jumping right in, I slapped paint on the canvas using a palette knife which I’d always wanted to do, and never had tried (Why not, I wonder?). I loved the effect of the purple underpainting peeking through where the next layer of paint didn’t quite cover, and the texture of the thick paint as I smoothed it on learning quickly not to overwork it. I painted faster than I’d ever done before finishing it up in less than 2 hours as opposed to days and weeks. I loved the painting, but more than that, I loved the experience of painting! I felt lighthearted, happy, and joyful!

In my exuberance, I took it to my landlord who loves my more precision-oriented horse paintings. When I showed him this work which was different than anything I had produced, he became quiet, squinted, and then said, emphatically, “That’s not very good.” At first, shocked at his bluntness, I rode the wave of recovery with first a laugh at his daring, and then an appreciation for his lack of pretense. I was carried along on the wave because I was in the joy of my experience. I’d had a lot of fun painting with wet paint on wet not knowing with each stroke how it would look. I experienced what Carole was writing about, the awesome merging of colors.

Not being daunted I sent photos off to my artist friends and told them what had happened. I did a disclaimer saying that my landlord might be right. I hadn’t had time to process, and the day may come when I would feel chagrin that I had shared it with anyone. But for now, I was exhilarated and wanted to do more paintings in that style.

I put the painting in the car to share with a friend at the ranch where my 5 rescue horses are pastured. We don’t often cross paths, but when we do, we have crazy and wonderful interactions around our horses. Today she just happened to be there. I showed her the painting that was oozing with thick paint that was still very wet from a few hours before.

She looked at it and she too grew silent as my landlord had done. Uh oh. She is also a very forthright person. When she spoke, my guarded mind had a hard time catching up with her words as they spilled out. She wanted to buy it! She was serious and offered me a good and fair price. How could this happen so easily and so fast!? Yes. Of course I will sell it. I hadn’t yet signed it nor varnished it, and I wanted to show it at a possible venue for selling my other paintings. We decided I would take it home to complete my agenda.

I carefully placed it in the car feeling a new sense of protective responsibility for what was now “her” painting even though we hadn’t yet finalized the sale. Feeling a little uneasy, I made sure the painting was placed where it couldn’t hit the floor with sudden braking nor be crushed by something falling. The painting made it home safely. Since the landlord’s large puppy that chews on everything within and beyond reach was gone for the night, I put the painting safely on the table away from a fresh bouquet of flowers that might drop pollen on it.

The next morning, after giving my memory time to reboot, I shuffled off in my slippers to look at my painting with fresh eyes. Of course it was still there, Silly. No gremlin intruder had carried it away during the night, so why had I been so nervous about it? I did, however, notice a lot more pollen on the table than  expected. Cringing, I hastily moved the painting further away from the flowers, then instinctively swiped my finger through the pollen. A cold awareness crawled over me in slow motion. The “pollen” was fresh paint. The colors of my painting! Then, I noticed it over the whole table. My focus went immediately back to my painting! I ran for my glasses. A mystery was developing. Sure enough there were tiny footprints on the table—and on my painting! During the night, little feet had walked all over my wet painting! The absurdity of it all! It was surreal! I wiped up the table and found one identifying animal deposit left discreetly behind a basket on the table. There had been a silent intruder after all. Le rat! Who would have thought!? Was he a mischievous and fun loving teenage rat who sneaked out of the his parents’ nest in the darkness to create a little havoc in the world? And just happened upon some fresh paint perfect for painting graffiti over the surface of the table? Harmless fun?! Or was it a wannabe artist taking the liberty to add multiple touches to my painting?

No matter the story that night. Le rat left foot tracks on my fresh work of art that I had joyfully painted, and was poised to sell; a painting that I had been diligent to protect from harm. It was no longer the same painting. The story is too unbelievable, and too hilarious for me to be really upset, even with the potential loss of a sale. But I could have used that money!

There is more. When I checked the book Animal-Speak, The Spiritual and Magical Powers of Creatures Great and Small, by Ted Andrews, I discovered that one of the keynotes for rats is “success.” In Ted’s words, “…though rats don’t have a very elegant reputation, they are tremendously adaptable. …People born in the Chinese year of the rat are said to be success-oriented…This drive for success may be what the rat has come to speak of with you….” Perhaps this 4-legged graffiti artist has brought me opportunity for success in ways not yet known. I will thank Le Rat, and send him on his way to do the rest of his work somewhere else far away!

The rest of the adventure still lies ahead. Once I had finished the painting, it packed its bag and took me on its own journey as I scrambled to keep up. We traveled through the rejection by my landlord, the offer to buy it by a friend, the protective efforts on my part, the visit by le rat during the night, footprints on fresh paint, the altered painting, and now the story. I am fascinated. What is next? There is a delightful “squealing in my soul,” and a children’s story percolating in my mind.

Oil Painting with Footprints below by Le Rat.

   

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