While the act of painting en plein air guarantees neither consistent success... nor comfort, it does support growth opportunities for those willing to endure the at times cruel weather and the elements. Add to those things the additional discomfort inflicted by the insect terrorists such as black flies, mosquitoes and midges, who... in the warm months punish the outdoor enthusiast far worse than the the winter cold. One often wonders why one seeks to place themselves in such circumstances.
From an artistic point of view, the answer is quite simple. Nature has such wonderful lessons to teach us not only about painting. It presents first hand lessons about qualities attributed to humankind such as nobility... perseverance... loyalty... cooperation... conflict resolution and tolerance to name just a few. Many of these attributes present themselves to the outdoor artist through observing birds... forests and flowers in their natural habitat. One gains a substantially more objective view regarding our own own plights... in our daily lives and problems. Somehow... one always returns more grateful for the gifts of life... of sight... smell touch and taste. All of these senses are heightened... while simply listening... and seeing Nature in its rawest form.
A huge dividend in my own plein experiences over a lifetime... has been the copious and enriching opportunities to meet unique people, most of whom I would never have encountered, except through my painting experience and encounter in their realm. I am the richer for having met them... no matter their circumstances... or their social standing. Whether "simple" or "well off"... "educated" by standard social measures... or by the "school of experience", each offers me insights into life. All seem willing to invite me into their lives and is most often the case... no matter where I go, I am always welcome to return - and I do! Here is such a recent story of this past week that I can share with you.
On my ritual daily walk, I pass an old homestead which certainly has seen better days. But it has always beckoned to me to paint it. This past winter... on a very cold day during that "Thirty Day Challenge"... I did undertake to do so at the end of a bitter day. Mid way through the hour or so that I was painting... the owner emerged from the front porch of the house and ambled slowly towards me. He asked if I minded his "having a peek"... and I offered a welcome to him to do so. Over the course of the last half hour, he recited his entire personal life history... family history and that of the house.
As it turned out, he was related to two of my Narrows Lane childhood pals. Their mother was his aunt. Sydney (and I'll exclude his last name to protect his privacy) had lived his entire life in this home which had been his mother and dad's.... his grandparents and his great grandparents. He now lived alone in the home after his mother became blind and too physically challenged to remain in the house. He had to place her in care at a nursing home. He sees her only occasionally.
By his own reckoning... he was a "failure at numbers", but he was proud of the fact that he could take apart and repair his aged farm tractor as was needed - no problem! He lives totally alone... from bottle to bottle, with only his mongrel bull terrier for company. He heats his one room in the lower storey of the Victorian era wooden home with wood that he draws from his 200+ acre woodlot that surrounds his aging home. His housekeeping has been lost in this imposed state of bachelorhood. Time has passed him by and the life he grew up in and knew has all but disappeared here... and in most other parts as well. There is an Wyeth Olson - Kuerner ambiance here... and I bask in it and in learning about his past... and present lives.
Back to the present. Sydney had asked back in February if the painting was for sale, but both of us knew that my customary asking price for such a sketch was not within his means... or needs. But today, as I passed, he suddenly rushed out to ask if I still had the sketch.He blurted that he REALLY needed to have it. I learned that he had been charged multiple times for DWUI and had lost his licence to drive any motor vehicle (including his tractor). On the last occasion, he was ordered by a judge at trial to serve a term of sixteen months for his ongoing refusal to stay off the road and public endangerment. Fair enough! He was to report for his jail time on Friday of this week and had been given time to set up arrangements for his dog and house.
The dog has a new home across the road with neighbours. But his family have told him that the house will be sold... and likely be gone before he comes out of jail. Everything he owns and has around him to say that he is a person... will likely have disappeared by that time. The only benefit as I mentioned to him frankly , was that he would be sober finally and have another chance to finally start afresh. Needless to say, those words presented a very shallow sense of hope for him. He was simply overwhelmed by despair... in a word - hope-less!
What seemed to give him some sense of solace was in having my sketch. I guess he felt that in a small way he could still maintain a piece of "Who" he had been. I reflexively offered the sketch as a gift, but he countered that he couldn't accept it that way. He wanted to pay. .. and asked if I'd take $60.00 and something of value from his house. It was a request for Dignity... and I knew it. I said that I would accept those terms, but provided that I would choose the pieces from his home. I didn't want any of his family articles of worth... just a remembrance of the short time we had spent knowing each other. I chose a small sealer jar and a small oval litho print in a small metal frame. We shook hands... and he seemed very pleased that we had worked out a mutually fair trade.
I shook hands with Sydney... and said my reluctant and sad goodbye at his front door. He will never likely know that I got the better of the deal in the transaction. I have in my heart a memory of being able to add comfort to a fellow traveller. And yes... many years ago now... I too lost everything... except my gift to paint. I feel deeply blessed for that gift... and every day that I wake to a world filled with opportunity for Joy... and the opportunity to share my gift... I feel blessed. I am deeply honoured that Sydney cared so much for my gift too! It goes much beyond $$$$$ and prizes.
"What goes around... comes around!"
I am deeply blessed!....
"Long Afternoon Shadows at Sydney's Sunlit Homestead" - oil on cradle board 10x12 inches
Good Painting to ALL!!!