Monday, February 18, 2019

Watercolor of a house I once lived in, and thoughts on making things

One of the complicated parts of being an artist is that I MAKE THINGS.  This may seem kind of obvious, but what isn't obvious is that I don't realize that other people AREN'T making things.  And when having a conversation about "things," I am using a different meaning than other people are at times.

This comes up in many contexts.  A colleague was upset that her husband tosses out all the Christmas cards he receives every year, while she does not.  I suspect that the cards he is throwing out weren't MADE by anyone he knows: they were merely purchased, and have rote greetings in them.  Would he throw out cards that were handmade, contained handwritten letters, or featured photos of people who are dear to him?  Probably not.  I make and/or design all of my cards myself, and receive cards with handwritten notes, typed letters, and photos of people dear to me, so my choices are different, but there's nothing wrong with either choice.  We aren't really talking about the same thing when we talk about "Christmas cards," so having a strong opinion about what people "should" do with the cards they receive doesn't make a lot of sense.

Likewise, I was texting with a friend last night, and she was shocked that I have anything from my life in the 1990s.  Which baffled me.  Why wouldn't I have things from that time in my life?  I'm a writer, a photographer, a painter, and was still studying architecture back then.  It seems unlikely that my life would leave no material trace!

For example, this post is illustrated with a watercolor of a house on San Francisco's Short Street (in the Castro; it intersects with Market), which I rented with friends for less than a year, perhaps around in 1993.  I don't think I have any photos of it, but I have this.  I remember that I was painting this when a long-time friend visited, to discuss his distress over his mother's stroke.  That was an intense day!

This little watercolor turned up in my garage-packing yesterday.  It isn't an amazing painting, but is totally representative of me at that time, and it shows that I go through rare phases where I paint representational things (as opposed to abstracts, which I paint more of). It fits neatly into my archive, to show my early development as an artist.

It does not need to be destroyed merely because there is a specific house-cleaning fad sweeping the country, or because it is old, and I might be able to paint it differently now.  (Of course I would paint it differently now: I am different.)  But that doesn't matter: I painted this when living there mattered to me, and I wanted to remember it.

If I hadn't painted it (and kept the painting), I wouldn't remember much about how the house looked, or where the skylights were, or what the houses on either side looked like.

I would remember the tree just above it to the right, on the other side of the valley well -- because I carved a rubber stamp of it. :)  Looking at things deeply to draw or otherwise represent them by hand burns them into memory in a special way.

What I'm saying is: "things" can have many meanings, especially if you make things, which is an especially intimate relationship.  Sometimes, the "making" is about the process, sometimes it is about the result, and sometimes it is about both.  Don't let anyone else decide the fate of things you made for you!

#memory #art #creation #things