When God Erases
I've been working on two paintings to be my entries into the Eastern Regional Oil Painters of America exhibition. It's uncomfortable to admit that I have looked at these works for a very long time when I know that they may be very average paintings. I added paint then immediately took it away. I'd add more paint just to leave part of it. I painted over elements that I thought would stay. Back and forth, back and forth, with paper towels as much as brushes.
The problem is that I care how these images come out because they are of my home. They are close, and I want those who view them to feel that I know this place, that I've stood here and took it in and not just drove by on the way to elsewhere. I've asked it before, but, how do you depict your home? How is it possible? The layers and layers of memory and sentiment, of experience and myth, do not lend themselves to depiction. Waving curtains from open windows, the hum of a boxy air conditioner half inside the house, half outside, fall evenings walking over fallen leaves making no sound, winter morning walks to clear the head, the sound of grassy clumps underfoot as I watch my feet wade through tan grass and green.
I believed in the idea behind the images, and that added to the struggle. I knew that if I could just say what was inside, everything would work out. I tried. More paint. I tried again. Different temperature. Again. More saturation. And again. Foggier? Over and over. Back and forth. I thought of painting another scene, but I didn't want to quit on this. So I kept adding and subtracting, hoping that each dried layer would show itself in an interesting way when I said, “done.” Hoping that I would finish before the deadline. Hoping that I didn't distort a key part.
When God Erases
At some point during this process, I remembered something I heard a Christian quote from a playwright. The playwright said, “When God erases, He is planning to write.” Let that sink in.
I know the plans I have for these two paintings. I know how they have occupied my mind even apart from the easel. They have been stared at and studied. I have nodded in approval and scrubbed in anger. Through periods of no new painting, their layers were always on my mind. I was always planning to finish the story.
As I write this the deadline is 13 days away. I am mostly finished with the second one and completely done with the first, so long as I don't look at it (see it here). It isn't the best composition and I left part of it sketchy on purpose knowing that it could be mistaken for incompetence, but I like the feel. The feel was the main idea. The second painting is of a winter morning. As of two days ago, I messed up the foreground and chose to repaint it in a different way. The idea is "Morning Hymn". We'll see.
What seems to me to be a late and costly error in the foreground and possible devastation could be a new beginning or a new direction. It will be difficult, but I'm not finished. These works remind me that I also have been scraped off, wiped out, painted over, and sanded down, but I have not been discarded, overlooked, or unheard. Neither have you. There is a next sentence, another page, more marks to make, more color to add, more grace, more love, more hope. There is a finish, and,
for each one of us,
The Lord has picked up the pencil.
UPDATE September 11, 2017: "Quiet Fall" was included in the 2017 OPA Eastern Regional Exhibition.