early painting memories
While going through some boxes in my mother's basement I came across the oil painting above, done when I was 13. My mom had gotten me started at age 11 when she'd let me use some paints she had for craft work (stenciling furniture) and a friend of the family offered some basic tips to get started--but I was pretty much on my own at that point. That was a good thing, I think, instilling as it did an experimental approach early on.
Finding this painting brought back memories of this pivotal time in my young art life, including my first "studio"--an assemblage of cast off stuff that I put together in the basement. A rickety folding easel and small metal cabinet for my supplies, a board balanced on two stools for my palette, an old floor lamp for a bit of dim lighting. I liked the idea of it more than the reality, preferring other less gloomy settings most of the time...outside, in my room, or some other place in the house.
Besides the painting above there are lots of early drawings, watercolors, collages and a few oil paintings that have survived in the parental archives. My mom and dad knew very little about art, but respected my passion. While I never doubted their support (they always hung my work in the house, bought me supplies, and were pleased that I had such a focused interest) for the most part they let me figure things out by myself. That seems to me a good, respectful model of parenting--expressing interest, providing something in the way of materials and supplies, then backing off and allowing the child to decide how to proceed. Had they pushed and gushed and made too much of my art aspirations, I wonder if I'd have retreated.
Two things strike me about this painting. On the back of its canvas board support, on the pre-printed place to label the work with date, media etc. I had crossed out the word "artist" and substituted "painter." In spite of the fact that my parents loved my work, it seems that at 13 I knew I had a ways to go to earn the more elevated title. I definitely recall that my go-it-alone adventure into art was sometimes frustrating and difficult. Good lessons to learn early though.
The other thing I notice here is the subject matter of nature and an interest in abstraction...the composition is probably not all that original since I had an early attraction to Georgia O'Keeffe, but my interest in her paintings laid some important groundwork.
I recall other important influences around this time, including a 6 or 8 week Saturday class (the only extra-curricular art I had as a kid) at the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh (memories of riding into the city alone from the suburbs on the bus...)called Design in Nature. This class was conceptual in its approach and exerted an influence on my thinking and perception forever after, dealing as it did with the beauty of patterns, textures and colors in plants, shells and rocks.
I was also privileged to have an extraordinary junior high school art teacher, Penny Russell, who maintained an active, intense art practice in her home (her daughter was my best friend so I had a person view of this.) Penny's work often ventured into the abstract, and she shared with me a process of discovering interesting compositions within randomly patterned and textured sheets of oil colors. But her most important influence was as an adult role model, always involved, inventive and curious about her own work and that of others.
These memories bring thoughts to ponder...such as how to best nurture and mentor young artists, and also that themes and interests that emerge early in life so often occupy us our whole lives. Unearthing layers of my artistic past in my parent's basement (my mother not only kept a lot of my work, but also every show announcement and newspaper clipping from way back) has been a sweet chore. I owe so very much to my parent's support and belief in what I could achieve.