Contemplating Bad News or What I Learned About Life By Being An Artist


I’ve learned a little something about life by being a painter of pastoral scenes and the occasional portrait. Here’s one thing:

Contrast makes a painting ‘successful;’  that is to say, BOTH lights and darks define a painting. The same is true for people, right? We don’t, nor should we even aspire, to live in a Stepford-onian world. The disparity between two opposing qualities create a balanced unity. My children (and grandchildren) are just about as different from each other as different gets. My father and I are also from different poles, so to speak.

We lived (the three of us; my parents and I) on a hill by a highway. My grey house had a soul and a heart (which was its innards where I lived; where I slept and dreamed and ate and defecated). It had skin which swirled with more than simple grey; if you bothered to look. There were rats in the cellar but they never ventured upstairs, so far as I knew. I heard them overturn barrels and rummage through boxes. I thought of them as IT.

Below in my house’s cellar, unseen by most, IT knocked through my grey house’s deep place. I pretended to be very afraid of IT but sometimes I wasn’t so afraid. Sometimes when the highway noise was lulling me to sleep just right I thought IT was my house’s soul. There was always so much talk of ‘them’ tearing down my house to extend the highway. Talk of ‘moving’. Eventually they did tear it down. We DID move. But then, back then, I liked to think that if my house could’ve flown off the hill to escape- it would’ve done so. And I would’ve helped it; standing tall on the hilly lawn in my Halloween princess costume, waving a wand. I imagined it twirling off into the sky and ‘away’ long before I ever saw Dorothy’s house do just that, in the movie Wizard Of Oz.

            A sole pear tree somehow grew from patchy soil on the outskirts of the gravelly yard. It had gnarled sturdy arms that held golden fruits; like the partridge song. The brave tree was a silhouette against the sky near the picnic table.  I heard it growing. I saw hyper-visually, in symbols. I referenced, and counter-referenced. I heard hyper-audiently. Everyone did.

One summer day my father jogged into the house… “There’s a red-head down there- oh she’s a mess, Carol,” he told my mother. “I gotta’ make some calls for her. The other guy- I think he’s a goner.”

Another car accident on the highway.

            The people victims were carried away by ambulances. The animals were flattened until they disappeared entirely, flattened so completely that their remnants could lift and blow across the lanes. I stopped expecting little animal ambulances and animal stretchers to appear on the highway a long time ago. The black undertakers usually arrived, to make off with entrails and such; rightfully so, in the scheme of things. They disturbed me just the same. I respected their shiny obsidian wings that could lift up, up just before the next tractor trailer rumbled through. It was something about their voices.  The crows cackled. Everything was so dam funny to them.

It wasn’t funny the day Duchess was struck by a vehicle on the highway. Yet they cackled; watching from the pear tree. My father had carried Duchess up from the highway and had placed her by the bush near the pear tree. He ordered me then sharply, pointing at the house: “Go in the house, Kimmy! You don’t need to see this!” I waited until I saw him toting the shovel over toward the sandpit near the billboard. Then of course, I took a peek at my black and white hound. I knelt beside her and examined numbly the blood that had stained her white patches red. It was cascading from her eyes, her ears, her nose and mouth. I had a bag of potato chips in my hand as I did so. I stood and sighed. Went back into the house. So this was death.

Close up.

I have painted perhaps thousands of paintings since that day and realized (as I said earlier) that there is a balance to be struck from light and dark paint dabs, and from life experiences too. I needed to see death as badly as my father felt he needed to protect me from its ugly face.

My father has known many deaths over the years, more than me surely because he is 83 and I am 33 years younger than he is. I’ve lost grandparents, cousins, aunts, uncles, my mother and my birth mother, a spouse, a twin baby, countless pets. My father’s currently coming to terms with the terminal diagnosis of someone he has known his entire life.

As we are always apt to do, we are handling the sad news differently. He has known this person much longer than me, and there is a bond there that I couldn’t possibly share. He handles this news in his private way and I handle it my way. He wants to handle it in some way, but it is not as easy as digging a hole and so he digs a metaphorical one. He’s powerless to protect anyone, let alone himself.

I ponder, I recollect, I remember, I forgive, I pour over the pictures in my mind and also in my boxes and albums. Perhaps he does the same; but like the day he grabbed the shovel while I simultaneously held the potato chip bag, he gets down to the basics of things. We are different but not so different, really.

I’ve been recreating paintings of Van Gogh and Monet. This is a tremendous exercise in understanding the importance of darks and lights. Without them, the paintings don’t ‘work.’ I’m not trying for an exact reproduction of these master works. I’m doing my own versions, which is all, I suppose, any of us can do.

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ABOVE left: my faux Monet which I abandoned and painted over.

ABOVE right: I painted this tiny faux Van Gogh into the corner of a portrait painting which sold in December. It’s a miniature. I plan to paint a bigger one soon.

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The ABOVE two paintings are completed and ready to frame. They’ll probably be in the Lee Massachusetts Good Purpose Gallery show this Spring. ABOVE left: This is a painting I did (my version) which is a recreated Monet, yes a “faux Monet” if you will. ABOVE right: My faux van Gogh.

paintThisThis one is not mine, it’s a Van Gogh. I like how the water carrier appears to be carrying the setting sun. I am currently completing my version of this great painting. The lights and darks are especially important here, as is of course, the symbolism. 

Note: those of you who have read my memoir Under The Banana Moon, may recognize a paragraph in this post taken from the book…

Bye for now.

P.S. I really need more LIKES on my author page:

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