narcissus by the sea
Over the past summer, I jumped in on an art event in which the artists paint outdoors on the north shore of Long Island. Several dozen artists paint in a selected area for two days, and then submit their works for auction on the third day. In case you haven’t gleaned this from my portfolio, I am not really a plein air painter of landscapes, and I am not really inclined towards rapidly executed performance art. That’s not to say I don’t paint outdoors- I do, but oddly enough I am always drawn to do so on grey days, or at night. And I am able to paint quickly, but not when somebody asks me to do so- then it feels gimmicky. I paint quickly when something needs to be painted quickly, but otherwise…
So you may have noticed that I wasn’t altogether comfortable participating in this event. However, there was something fun about stepping outside of my usual setting, and trying something new. I would just have to do something that combined figure painting with outdoor painting.
I asked Margaret to pose for me, outdoors, in a summer dress. It wasn’t possible, because she was too busy watching Liam. I stayed up staring at the ceiling the night before, wondering what to do. I didn’t want to just paint a seaside scene, but I didn’t have a model.
I woke up at four in the morning, packed my truck, and headed to the painting sight. There were no other artists there yet. I was glad, I didn’t want anybody to see me and my strange setup. I walked far down a beach with two easels, a mirror, a palette, brushes, paints, coffee, bug spray, etc. And I began to paint by 5:30 a.m. Spackling definitely taught me how to wake up early.
I set up two easels, one with a canvas, the other with a large mirror. The easel with the mirror was about fifteen feet away from the easel with the canvas. The light was changing drastically every fifteen minutes. I initially found this change to be frustrating, but soon found it to be useful. The change in lighting enable me to choose different effects, all of which would heighten the picture. The light at dawn did a great job of lighting the boats in the background. The light at 11 a.m. fell on my face in an interesting way. I selected what I wanted, and rejected what didn’t work.
When I finished the painting, I dropped it off at the gallery. There were dozens of other paintings- scenes of the sea, a bridge over a lake, an old pickup truck. There were some really beautiful works. But, nobody else had done a painting of a person. Needless to say, nobody had done a self portrait. Ugh, I was a bit embarrassed, and so I titled it “Narcissus by the Sea.”
Later that day, the outdoor auction started, and the auctioneer began to sell pieces. One by one, every piece sold in the neighborhood of 200 to 600 or so. When it came to my piece, he boomed “Here’s a talented young artist from the Florentine scene of painting. Let’s start the bidding on this piece at 1,000. Do I hear 1,000?”
Crickets chirped contentedly in the background. A squirrel scolded a bluejay for flying too close. A car quietly drove by.
“Umm, do I hear 1,000?”
I think I heard one hand clapping.
“Umm, do I hear 950?”
I heard a mosquito buzz. Slap. It was dead.
A woman nearby squeezed out some sunblock. It sounded like ketchup.
O good Lord, please, wouldn’t it be a good time for the rapture right now?
BEAM ME UP SCOTTY, GET ME OUTTA HERE NOW!!
“Okay, well, we’re going to put the painting away, maybe somebody will be interested in it later. Wow, first time that’s ever happened.” The auctioneer took the painting off the easel, and put it on the ground. I wondered why they didn’t have defibrillators on the premises. I wondered if there was a plastic surgeon out there who could successfully redo my face, so as to render me unrecognizable even to my mother.
Then from the crowd I heard “600.”
I looked over, and a woman had her hand in the air. I thought of kissing her, but that would’ve been inappropriate for many reasons.
“750” said another bidder.
“1,250.” The auctioneer smiled a broad, toothy grin. “1,250, do I hear any higher? Any higher? Sold.”
After a round of smelling salts and a bucket of icewater poured over my head, I came to. Okay, maybe the salts and icewater weren’t necessary, but in my nerdy little world of painting, I felt I had finally understood what it was to be Rocky.