Seven years ago, Margaret and I bought a plane ticket to Florence, Italy. In my studies at the Charles Cecil Studios, it became immediately apparent that I was painting with a poor set of brushes, and that I would needed an entirely new set. We went to Zecchi, one of the finest art stores in the entire world, located beside the Duomo in Florence. We selected dozens of their very best bristle brushes, their very best Martora Kolinsky sable brushes, and we went to the counter. And, when the sum was tallied, we placed our money on the counter, giddy with anticipation.
Seven years later, I phoned Zecchi and made another large order. When the sum was tallied, and after administering smelling salts, I gave them my debit information. Conveniently, a fellow painter who studies at my studio, Saul, was in Florence, and he was able to pick up my order from Zecchi. And today, Saul brought my order back to New York. Watching him enter my studio with Zecchi shopping bags, I was excited.
The past few weeks I’ve spent a great deal of time in New York City, at events revolving around Converge, the show in which I recently exhibited. I was honored to meet many of the top artists in the world. They were from this gallery, from that gallery, from this coast, from that coast. They studied in Norway, they painted in Paris, they exhibited in San Francisco, they plein air painted in Burma, they summered in Maine, they argued aesthetics at the National Arts Club. Attending the event was the president of this and that art club, the arts writer from the New York Times, director emeritus of this and that arts association, this and that magazine, this and that gallery, this and that. Wonderful, thrilling, delirious excitement, and yet so intimidating. So many thoughts. So many new faces. So many new considerations, so many voices, so many lofty compliments, so many harsh criticisms, so much to digest. How incredible to have the audience of the art world, and yet taxi drivers, lawyers, street vendors race by, never slowing. What of it, is art a vital organ, or is it a pastime? I lay in bed at night, feeling like a newspaper tossed about in a whirlwind, amidst silent skyscrapers.
As Saul dropped the Zecchi bags to the floor, I reached in and pulled out my new brushes. Italian brushes are singular, in that every part displays proud craftsmanship. From the glowing wood handles, to the dense packing of the hair, to the particular snap of the ferrules’ response- I was pleased. And then, I noticed something. I walked across the room, held up my old brush, and stared in disbelief. Seven years of painting, and look. Scores and scores of canvases, hundreds upon hundreds of days, thousands of hours in the studio, standing at my canvas, my arm in motion, my hands flying, my eyes searching… and this material brush, succumbing to my vision, like rock before water.
And in that moment, all of the voices, all of the magazines and newspapers, all of the arts clubs and all of the homeless sleeping outside all of the big galleries of all the big cities of all the big countries, they all suddenly fade away. And as you stand alone with your brushes, you are Jane Austen, sitting beside your window, in your chair, with your ink well, in your world.