My approach to exhibiting paintings is much like chumming, the fishing practice in which one throws fish blood and guts overboard, and waits for other fish to be drawn near. And so, I place my paintings just about anywhere, and simply hope that, eventually, someone will catch a whiff of them. When asked to hang my work in the local Starbucks, I gladly provided them with five or six pieces that I had already created.
A year or so passed, during which I occasionally rotated new paintings onto the walls. One day, I received a call from the Starbucks corporate headquarters in New York City. One fellow who is over construction and design management had seen my work on the Islip Starbucks walls, and enjoyed one particular sketch of a boat. He explained that the Starbucks in Islip was being entirely remodeled, and they were looking for an accent piece to center the coffee shop around. He then asked if I would take my small sketch, and turn it into a four foot wide painting, as a commission for Starbucks. I told him my price, he accepted, and I began painting.
And so, for the past couple of weeks I’ve been out in the mornings, before dawn, waiting for the first rays of light to hit a boat in the harbor, down here at the working docks at Islip. I would show you the painting in progress, but I think it might be confidential, being as it is a commission for a corporation. However, once the painting is finished, I should be able to post the photos of the work. (I have three portrait commissions running right now, but am unable to post them until I ask permission of the commissioners, once the works are finished.)
But, there’s a purpose to my rambling. As I painted away, with super palette faithfully at my side, somebody came up and asked me some questions. The man’s face was unusual- his skin was browned and wrinkled by the sun and the sea, but his eyes were light and blue, a hue that, oftentimes, only children have. It was interesting to see the simple eyes beside the weathered skin. The man liked the painting, and explained that he was the captain of the boat I was looking at. “If you come back tomorrow, you can watch us unload her. Just got back from the ocean. It should be good- we got a good tuna, A bunch of others.” He smiled and walked off.
I woke early the next morning, and was waiting at the docks as the workers arrived. About twelve people took their stations, and each set to work. One man began shoveling ice, while another set up an enormous cutting block. A short, powerfully built man readied himself on the dock, while another disappeared down into the hull of the ship. A fellow opened an enormous, horizontal hatch on the floor of the ship, activated a crane, and dropped a rope down. Another sharpened knives, and passed them along to a neatly trimmed man, who stood at the base of the chopping block. An enormous scale was set up, cardboard boxes were stationed here and there… and then….
The crane heaved, and the roped began its ascent from the dark hull of the boat. All eyes were fixed on the rope. And suddenly, a tail. And, more tail. A little bit more tail… now the body of the fish… still the body of the fish… more body…. and then the full fish emerged- it was taller than a Danish man, even though the crew had already lobbed the head off. With the help of the crane, they pushed the dangling fish body over the side of the boat, and onto a scale. As they lowered him onto the chopping block, a hush fell over the group. The thing with tuna, I’m told, is that once they are hooked, they must be immediately hoisted onto the boat. If they get the chance to fight the lines for several minutes, then that fight causes them to produce a type of chemical which ruins the meat. All eyes were on the well trimmed fellow, with the sharp knife. He stood over the dinosaur sized fish, cut a small piece off, and tasted it. It was silent. He held it up to the sun. He threw it down on the chopping block. And then he spoke with a few of the others. Apparently, it was of high quality.
I would go on describing all of the other fascinating things in the day, but it would take me hours, and I gotta get up with my two sons at five thirty in the morning, and make them oatmeal. I can sum it up by saying that I’ve never been more inspired to paint anything, ever, in my life. I think I’ve found a lifelong calling- not to be a fisherman, but to paint commercial fishermen. Sure, I’ll paint other things, but I want to do some large paintings of these amazing people. There is something heroic about them. Sure, that’s romanticized, but what am I going to do, paint them as they fill out their tax forms? What I saw was choreographed movement, colors, the lights, the smell of diesel fumes mixed with fish oil, the gargle of the engine, the bite of the shovel digging into the ice, the shush of the ice leaving the shovel, falling onto the new catch. Life on Long Island seems so very removed from all of nature’s rhythms and cycles, and the idea of “the harvest” seems somewhat distant, when you are never more than two minutes away from a McDonalds. I stand in front of Sorolla’s paintings, his scenes of olive harvests and grape harvests, and I wonder why life has to be so disconnected, here in New York. But here, on a dirty dock in the middle of the Long Island, I witnessed one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen.
Now, I just gotta figure out how to get myself invited on one of those boats. And then, I gotta figure out how to paint them.
“I was led into these thoughts… by the beauty of the morning operating on a sense of Idleness- I have not read any books- the Morning said I was right- I had no idea but of the morning, and the thrush said I was right…” – John Keats