Entries Tagged as 'Movies'

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Lost in Translation, and the Personal Response to Film

How happy is the blameless vestal’s lot!
The world forgetting, by the world forgot.
Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind!
Each pray’r accepted, and each wish resign’d;

–Alexander Pope

In all the film talk that I’ve taken part in or read about over the years,  Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind has become sort of a litmus test about what kind of moviegoer you are. Unlike most films that that fall into this category, however, the results of the test aren’t as stark; it’s not like a Fight Club or a Memento… I think it just guages your personality/temperament rather than your ability to understand or appreciate film.

Anyway. I saw Eternal Sunshine when it came out and liked it fine. Went with my wife. It was probably one of the last films I saw before my first child was born, an arrival which ended my theater-going career. Not a bad trade-off; I do thank Christ every day that I live in the home video age, though… in contrast, I give you my parents: they were married in 1968, my oldest sister arrived in 1969. My middle sister in 1970. Me in ’71. They were movie-going folk. Were. How did they hack it? Midnight Cowboy. Five Easy Pieces. The Last Picture Show. A Clockwork Orange. The French Connection. The Exorcist. American Graffiti. The Godfather. All missed out on, only to be caught on network TV years down the road, sliced and diced, panned and scanned on a floor-model Zenith you had to kick once in a while to restore the color. Damn.

But back to Eternal Sunshine. I liked the conceit. I like mindbending movies, your Blade Runner, your 12 Monkeys, so obviously I like Charlie Kaufman and I dug Eternal Sunshine, but it didn’t really stay with me in any way. Not sure why; it just didn’t. I remembered Kate Winslet’s hair.

But it’s been brought up time and again in other films discussions I’ve had, and since Netflix won’t see fit to send me any movies ranked higher than #7 on my queue, I figured I’d give it a second chance and threw it onto my list accordingly. It arrived the other day.

I watched it tonight, and I cannot overstate the impact it had on me. This was great movie. Was it a Great Movie? Damned if I know. But it immediately became the kind of film for which I’d buy the DVD, which admittedly might not be saying much (I own over 200). But I really felt like it said something about the need we have for other people and the importance of life lessons, good or bad.

Yeah, OK. So why didn’t I feel that the first time I watched it? I was with the same girl, living mostly the same life, except for the kids, an aspect of relationships which isn’t touched on in the film at all. Why the dramatically different response?

I’m not sure. If I had to guess, I would think that I was inhabiting a more shallowly idyllic and somewhat ignorant stage in my relationship with my wife at the time, and the movie’s themes didn’t speak to me as deeply as they did now, 6 years later. Taking stock of regrets. Holding onto fleetingly beautiful moments. Feeling as if one’s soul is intertwined with another’s across various planes of existences.

For me, the stakes got a lot higher once I had kids, and the corresponding highs and lows got far more extreme. Are there moments that I’d like to have erased from my memory? Yes. Yes, there are. But what would that do? What would be the point? It’s because of those trying times that I’ve become somewhat of a man, even if I had to be dragged kicking and screaming along the way.

I just didn’t feel the urgency between Carrey and Winslet the first time I saw the film. Tonight, it fairly leapt off the screen. The disparity was striking. And I’m sure I’d have gotten into an internet slap-fight with the 2004 version of myself had we both posted about Eternal Sunshine back then, our opinions are so divergent. Which kind of makes you stop and say, Hey, what’s going on here? Because how can I feel so confidently about my impression of a film if it’s going to change a few years down the road?

Which brings me to Part Two of this post. Kind of unrelated, but not really. I give you a supreme example of this phenomenon. Lost in Translation is another cinematic litmus test, maligned by its detractors as an empty vessel of a movie, an artless blank slate that requires the viewer to provide all the emotional fuel. If you’re one who has longing in his or her heart it will work for you, and if you don’t… well, I guess the movie won’t work for you, but of more concern for me, it means you’re not human. But hey, that’s just my take.

But Lost in Translation. A shell game of a movie because it relied on the viewer’s personal response to the film. Well, duh. Well. Duh. That’s called going to the movies. I’ve always believed in that anyway, but after seeing Eternal Sunshine again and having a vastly different experience with it, the belief is validated.

This is why I always try to couch my statements about movies in wussy terms like “I think,” or “in my opinion,” instead of stark talk like “this film is,” or “that film isn’t“. It’s not me equivocating; it’s an acknowledgment of the subjectivity of the medium.

I don’t know what my point is, by the way. Just wanted to get it out.

Of Wax Paper, Baby Food Jars, and Jason Bourne

I’ve been painting a lot recently, and it’s been interesting because I never made a serious pass at it until a couple of years ago, and even then, I approached it tentatively… two paintings in two years. I’ve touched on this before, but it was an elephant-in-the-room situation, something I had been avoiding all along because of my unfamiliarity with it, and that avoidance only grew stronger over time.

I’ve picked up the pace a bit in the past six months (four paintings in that span), and what’s interesting is how naturally it’s come. I’m sure lifelong painters could have told me that drawing and painting skills translate well with one another, but it’s not like I ever asked, and besides, why should that be the rule? I doubt I can sculpt; yet that’s an art form. A brush seems pretty different from a pencil point or a pen nib when you think about it.The irony is that using a brush suddenly seems like the most natural thing in the world, and not only that, the most effective. It’s like I’ve been using rocks all my life to try to slay some menacing bear and someone just handed me a gun. The “Holy crap!” moments come crashing in like the tide. Relentless, but in a good way.

You know what I feel like? I feel like Jason Bourne in the film The Bourne Identity, at the early stages of the movie when he returns to mainland Europe, suffering from amnesia. He spends the night on a park bench in Switzerland (he has nowhere else to go), is rousted by two policemen, and before he knows it, he’s dispatched them with martial arts moves he never even knew he possessed. You can see the mixture of confusion and appreciation in his face.

I’ve got wax paper palettes taped down to glass tabletops in my basement studio, recycled baby food jars full of self-mixed opaque polymer washes of various colors, notions for which came bubbling up from my subconscious for no other reason aside from the certainty that they would work. I’m sure these are long-honored tricks. If I had applied myself earlier in life I’d know them already. It’s not even that they’re all that clever, that they’ve saved me from wasting money on real palettes, even though they have. It’s just that I understand the properties of the medium despite my limited exposure to it. And the point isn’t to crow about it; no, far from it. Again, if I wasn’t such a slacker I’d have found this out long ago.

But it just feels like if you’ve never ridden a bike before, and someone hands a Huffy to you and says, “Go for it.” And you hop on it and start pedaling and you go. For someone like me who has uselessly thrashed around in trying to find his way through the universe, releasing this thing which is so clearly embedded in my DNA is nothing short of weird. And it’s not that it’s earth-shattering, and it’s not that it will change any lives (not even my own), but just imagine if you were air-dropped into Brazil and found to your amazement that you spoke Portuguese. Some little part of yourself that you never knew existed was unlocked and stepped to the fore. It’s been almost 38 years and I just realized this, only now.

Archetype

This drawing is of my niece and goddaughter Riley, my sister’s child, it was for her birthday (I had promised to do a picture of her after her christening earlier this year). Although I guess you could say it was more for my sister than my niece, but that’s OK.

I get the feeling that drawing kids’ portraits would be a lot more lucrative than sports subjects. Not everyone’s a fan of sports; hopefully every parent is a fan of their kids. And people will spend silly money when it comes to stuff like that, just because.

The problem is that I have no desire to do it. I mean, I did in this particular case, obviously, but if it were somebody else’s kid I’d have had to drink a 12-pack of Miller Lite before I even tried to start the damn thing, just to drown the self-loathing. And I have no idea why; it’s not as if athletes are a more credible genre. One could say the above piece is a “truer” work of art, in that I took the source photograph myself, as opposed to using one from the pages of a magazine or downloaded off the internet. Larry Bird is not hanging in the Guggenheim or MoMA.

I’ve given the matter some thought. Sports are a big part of my life, but I’m a serious movie buff, too, and other than a Clint Eastwood/Josey Wales drawing I’ve done, I don’t do any work featuring movie stars. I think I feel like there’s a legitimacy involved with drawing athletes because it’s the human form. I spent a good chunk of time in high school and college doing figure drawings, and what I do now is an extension of that. It’s something I can respect.

But in digging a little deeper, I had a minor epiphany: I think it’s because I’m in a state of arrested development, and drawing pictures of sports stars is a thinly-veiled cover to drawing superheroes. The first art I ever took note of was from comic books. As a child I sharpened my drawing skills via endless sketches of Superman, Spider-man and The Hulk. And while I never really got into comic books themselves (I’m not a sci-fi or fantasy geek, and too many comic book narratives skew in that direction), I’ve always held a fascination with the idea of the superhero. More from a literary side of things, how they owe a debt to Greek mythology or Beowulf or Jekyll and Hyde.

Extrapolate this interest out to observing real-life specimens in peak physical condition, performing feats of wonder while wearing boldly-colored uniforms, and the comparison seems rather apt.

My son is a huge superhero geek now, no small thanks to my influence, which is great, since I get to live vicariously and credibly through him. (“Uh, I’m buying the Iron Man DVD on the day of its release for my son.”) He also watches quite a bit of sports with me, mostly because he has an inquisitive mind and wants to know what it’s all about, although he’s a TV junkie who would watch C-SPAN if it meant keeping the set on. Sometimes when I’m trying to explain a certain sporting situation I try to couch it in terms of superheroes so he can understand it better. And then the lightbulb went off in my head.

I showed him two clips from The Natural: the clock-shattering scene at Wrigley and the final home run. The intersection of sports and myth, of man and superman. Roy Hobbs and his magical bat Wonderboy.  Arthur and Excalibur. Thor and Mjolnir. Green Lantern and his power ring.

When Hobbs sent his home run ball arching into the light stand, setting off a shower of sparks, my son leaped off the couch, jumping up and down just as if Roy was wearing a cape and saving the girl. And it was great to see him and feel that same thrill again myself, improbably so, having seen that home run dozens of times before.

I was around ten years old when I switched from drawing superheroes to drawing baseball players. I’ve never really looked back. But it’s dawned on me that on some level I’m just redirecting; in drawing these pictures, I’m just choosing a more socially acceptable alternative to sketches of grown men (or mutants) in spandex. But it’s still the same thing. They are the same stories being played out since man began to put paintings on cave walls. The weight they hold is ingrained in us, just like a dog that circles to tamp down nonexistent grass before it lies down to sleep.

And this picture…

…tells me far more about ourselves than one of a smiling baby.

“I Can Do Anything. I’m the Chief of Police.”

Because life can always be boiled down to Jaws quotes.

As anyone who’s read some of my previous posts knows, I rarely let an allegedly finished piece stay finished. There’s usually some aspect of it that nags at me until I return to the table and re-work it, and sometimes I can fix it and other times I can’t. Prior to last night, the most recent example of this phenomenon was with the Paul Pierce drawing I did in August. I had to battle to even come up with an approximation of his face, and once having claimed that moral victory, I went back to the well rather than play it safe and leave it alone. I think it ended up working out for the most part, yet it’s never a sure thing, this revisitation process. But I tell myself I wouldn’t be what I am if I didn’t have that inner eye that felt the need to improve things… I have to be my own worst critic.

So of course I wasn’t finished with the Ted Williams picture I “finished” the other night, either. Here’s the picture in its first incarnation, which I blogged about in the post previous to this one.

What didn’t I like about it? I thought the hat was kind of messed up. The visor seemed too large and the angle at which it sat on his head seemed wrong. The thing is, I scrutinized the source photo many times and determined that the proportions were correct (it wasn’t like I was overtly screwing it up, which happens), it’s just that it wasn’t working out as drawn on the page. And in the past, I’ve often been too slavish to the source material, assuming that my goal was to achieve the highest degree of verisimilitude as possible.

But lately, primarily because I’ve been drawing so much, I’ve built up a sufficent trust in my own eye and in knowing what works and what doesn’t. Which brings me to our man in blue from Amity (which, as you know, means friendship).

There’s a scene in Jaws where Hooper and Brody are drinking wine and lamenting over the fact that the shark is still at large, but the only way to prove it is by doing an autopsy on a recently caught tiger shark, the results of which should yield definitive proof.

Brody says, “So let’s have another drink and cut that sonofabitch open.”

Brody’s wife responds, “Can you do that, Martin?”

Brody drunkenly slurs, “I can do anything. I’m the Chief of Police.”

There was a time when I’d doggedly stick with trying to make the cap in the Williams drawing appear as it did in the source photo because that was the goal. Right? Well, who made that rule? I can make the cap look like how I think it needs to look to make the drawing work. Of course I have jurisdiction over that.

I can do anything. I’m the Chief of Police.

It’s kind of sad that it’s taken this long to assume that mantle over my artistic process, but it’s noteworthy nonetheless.

The kicker is that in this case, I doubt anyone can tell the difference between the version with what I felt was a screwed-up cap (above) and the version where I just drew what I thought looked “right” (below). But that’s OK. I can tell, and even if there really is no difference (and there might not be), there is when it comes to my peace of mind over the drawing. Which is what matters most. I am, after all, the Chief of Police.

As an aside, I was working on the changes to this drawing during the Sox game last night. I started once they fell behind, 7-0: knowing I wasn’t going to turn the TV off or stop watching the game (despite the score), I figured I could at least divert my attention from the train wreck while paradoxically keeping an eye on it. I paused briefly when Papi hit his home run, and then stopped altogether once Drew hit his.

Superstition will not hold sway for Game 6. This piece is finished, believe it or not. Part of me wishes it weren’t, just so I could work on it again on Saturday night to conjure up the necessary gold dust, but that would be pushing it. I think the Red Sox are now also the Chief of Police, anyway. They won’t need it.

True Romance: 15 Years Gone

Maine Medical Center, northern New England’s largest hospital, sits on a bluff in Portland known as the Western Promenade, overlooking Route 295 and the Fore River just before it empties into Casco Bay. It was built in 1874.

Growing up in Massachusetts I had little knowledge of Maine, and would not be consciously aware of any of this until 2001.

* * *

I was standing on the sidewalk on Beacon Street, cast in the yellowish glow from the streetlight above, my legs somewhat unsteady and my lungs breathing fresh air for the first time in eight hours. The screech of the C Line reaching its terminus poked through my drunken haze, causing me to look up. Cleveland Circle.

My apartment was a couple of blocks away, down Comm Ave via Chestnut Hill Ave, towards BC. A short walk. It was close to midnight, probably time to pack it in, unless someone suggested grabbing some late-night chow, which was advisable. I had just spent the equivalent of a work day drinking within the puke-scented confines of Mary Ann’s, cheap beer from shitty tap lines, no food eaten in that span except for the time I ran across Beacon Street to the CVS to get myself a Snickers bar (Because it really satisfies, because it really satisfies, I kept telling myself as I hopped over the T tracks that bisected the street). That might have been around 7:00.

Shadowy faces of my companions under the harsh glare of the streetlamp. We were waiting for someone to say something, not quite ready to quit on the night, but trying muster an idea that would provide the inspiration to just get us to move.

My friend Rob glanced casually to his left, looking beyond the Dunkin’ Donuts, across Chestnut Hill Ave, past the Ground Round. To the Circle Cinemas. A slight grin stole across his face.

“Wanna go see True Romance again?”

I looked at my watch. 11:45. There was a midnight show.

Rob and I had seen True Romance earlier that afternoon, the day of its premiere, September 10, 1993. Our two friends with us at Mary Ann’s, Marjie and Jon, had not. But Rob and I hadn’t shut up about the movie all goddamn day (in between my commandeering of M.A.’s CD juke and shushing everyone to listen to the guitar solo in Dinosaur Jr’s “Start Choppin’” for about eight or nine times in a row, of course). And after being subjected to our rapturous and relentless endorsement of the movie, they were sufficiently primed to see it.

I opened my mouth. Speaking was a deliberate act at this point.

“Yes. Yes I do.”

So the four of us began to drift toward the theater, pulled like we were in the grip of some tractor beam, foolishly thinking we had made the conscious decision to go see this movie once more.

Glass doors swinging open. Cinema lobby pristinely bright, redolent of popcorn and melted butter. Pay your money, get your ticket, they let you in. God bless America.

A sweating plastic cup full of Cherry Coke cradled in one hand, the size of a mortar shell, ice swishing back and forth. A pack of strawberry Twizzlers clasped in the other. Falling into the plush blue fabric seat, ass slung low to the ground, head lolling back and looking at that vast expanse of screen, waiting for the images to start flickering and tell their story. Lights dimming.

And I sat through True Romance again, eleven hours after having first seen it, a shitfaced and open-mouthed grin on my face the entire time.

* * *

That spring I had somehow managed to get myself into a relationship with a girl who had no interest in me and would generally bong hit herself into oblivion in order to avoid our pathetic attempts at sex. In her defense, I’d have to say it was a justifiably sound strategy on her part. That this lasted for almost 5 months was testament to my naïveté, although I console myself now by saying that stupid is par for the course when you’re 22.

We started dating in April, she graduated from BC in May, and after a month or so of her fruitlessly searching for a job in Boston, she went up to Maine to work at the lobster restaurant where she had waitressed the past two summers. I had never really spent any time in Maine before, and at the very least, I figured my periodic visits to see her would give me the opportunity to explore parts of that strange and unknown state.

But it was the beginning of the end of us, mercifully enough. Because after two weekend visits (one in August and one in the beginning of September, Labor Day weekend, on her birthday), I began to worry more about the miles I was putting on my car than the state of our relationship. I didn’t think dumping her was the sort of thing I should do over the phone (despite the nagging feeling that she’d greet this development enthusiastically), so I made one last trip up on the Thursday after Labor Day to do the deed, and met her at the restaurant as she got off work. But instead of ending it right then, I proceeded to get bombed with her at the restaurant’s outdoor bar overlooking the water.

The next morning, I woke up and dumped her, as pre-emptive a move as I’d ever made to that point in my life. Smash cut to me in my car, driving south from Brunswick on Route 295, zipping past Portland and its hospital perched on a hill whose existence I was indifferent to, knowing it only as some random brick building I could see from the highway. And I was free.

I was going to be back in Boston by mid-day, it was a Friday, and I was going to get hammered and unleash my pent-up frustration on the unsuspecting streets of Allston/Brighton that night, but I had one thing to do first:

I was going to see True Romance.

Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs had been released that past winter, and it was such a refreshing jolt of pulp that it instantly made his next project worth keeping an eye on, and True Romance’s script was written by him (sold before Dogs even went into production, no less). I had a movie friend, Rob (a goofy bastard, but someone who loved film as much as I did), and he and I were going to catch it at some point that opening weekend, it was just a question of when. Being that my calendar was suddenly clear, it would now be that afternoon, the day of its premiere. Rob was waiting to go to grad school in Ireland — he would leave later that month — so he could do things like go to weekday matinees. The benefits of a liberal arts education.

I stopped at the Kennebunk rest area and called him from a pay phone, heady with the news:

“Meet me at the Dedham Showcase this afternoon, we’re going to the 1:00.”

* * *

At around 3:00, I walked out of the Showcase feeling as if someone had just hit me over the head with a large board. True Romance was trash, but it was dizzyingly beautiful trash. At times I crave cerebral (and sometimes inaccessible) film, but on occasion, you just have to sit back and admire the home run. It was like eating a Big Mac with a tub of ice cream and washing it down with a Schlitz tall boy. The most decadent Big Mac I had ever eaten, the sublimely sweetest ice cream I ever tasted, the coldest and crispest Schlitz I ever drank.

Rob and I felt like we were in on some earth-shattering secret, having just seen one of the greatest popcorn movies of all time, and having seen it first, no less. Just three other people had even been in the theater with us for the 1:00 show. Out on Route 1, in front of the theater, cars came and went, oblivious to what had just transpired. A blank blue sky stretched out overhead, unknowing. We had information. Our molecules fairly vibrated from the life-altering experience we just had, and it was as if we were both John the Baptist, knowing Things that others did not.

Keyed up, I drove back to my apartment on Comm Ave, Hans Zimmer’s Orff-evoking score still drumming in my head. Rob followed me in his car. I grabbed a case of beer along the way, feeling the rumble of the idling liquid-fueled Saturn V rocket that was the combination of me breaking up with my girlfriend and seeing this film within a span of 6 hours, knowing that blastoff was but a dive bar away. Arriving at my apartment, we power-slammed three beers apiece, then lit out on an unsuspecting city. I left the following note for my roommate, Jon, who would be getting out of work at 5:00:

“Free at last. At M.A.’s, meet us there.”

And once we entered the cool and dank confines of Cleveland Circle’s finest establishment, I proceeded to drink my face off. Jon and Marjie joined us later.

* * *

Snapshots of a life not quite real. Remember ViewMaster Clickers? A sort of hybrid between binoculars and a virtual reality visor, utilizing flimsy little cardboard wheels with tiny slides along their outside edges inserted into a slot on the viewer’s top. A chintzy little internal slide projector. Looking raptly through those lenses, you could be transported to a new world, probably Barbie’s Dream House or the Hall of Justice, the typical six-year old’s Louvre or Sistine Chapel.

The thing about the ViewMaster was the trigger. You pushed that button down with your index finger, spring compressing, the little cardboard wheel turning inside the ViewMaster, rotating the disc halfway down toward the next “slide” on the outside edge of the wheel. Letting that springloaded lever slip off your fingertip would snap the wheel up to bring the next image into view.

A garish photo lingering before your eyes, almost too close to comprehend as reality, and then you’d press the lever, and then… blackness. The gear inside the ViewMaster could be heard. The anticipation of the next image could be felt. And then the lever would swing back up, the next slide being revealed in all its wonder and glory. The world’s slowest strobe light.

Imagine letting your eyelids slowly slip closed, then opening them and seeing something completely different. But as fantastical as that new image may be, it’s the blackness in between that dictates the story, despite what your eyes tell you.

* * *

As it turned out, for all of the zeitgeist that we were sure True Romance would generate, nobody cared. They just didn’t care. It grossed $4 million in its opening weekend, $12 million during its total theatrical run.

But it has gained status on home video. I’ve owned three separate copies of the film: VHS, bought in 1994 when it was first released; the initial Director’s Cut DVD, picked up sometime in the late ‘90s as I was switching my library over to that format; and the unrated 2-disc version with the Scott and Tarantino audio commentaries, which I should have known to wait for in the first place. Not that I could’ve waited.

The thing I remember most about the day I first saw it was this indescribable giddy feeling: This why I go to the movies. The film’s two conversational showdowns – Slater/Oldman and Walken/Hopper – those are a master class in creating tension through subtext, and both are settled with big bangs. If you have an inner thirteen-year old somewhere within the recesses of your heart, where everything is couched in terms of bullets, drugs, witty movie references, and hookers with hearts of gold, this movie should strike a chord.

When all is said and done, I go to the movies to have fun. This movie was fun.

I watched True Romance again last night, a fifteenth anniversary viewing, sitting on a couch my wife and I had bought together at Hub Furniture in Portland, Maine. Maine, where we lived for four years from 2001 to 2005 after my wife randomly got a well-paying job up there. Maine, where I worked at Maine Medical Center for three years, the hospital where two of my three children were born. The hospital that overlooked a stretch of highway I passed through several times way back when, including a drive home to Boston on the morning of Friday, September 10, 1993, on my way to catch a movie.

And as I watched Christian Slater attempt to pick up a prostitute by telling her that if he had to fuck a guy, he’d fuck Elvis, there were actually three people occupying that corner spot on my couch, each existing in a separate dimension with a shared nexus: A thirteen year-old boy whose wildest dreams were somehow telegraphed onto the screen before him. A twenty-two year old young man who was aimlessly free and just beginning to sense the control he had over his own life, driving by some building on a hill in some city he neither knew nor cared about. And finally, the thirty-seven year old husband and father watching this movie now, his wife beside him, his children slumbering away off in their bedrooms as he looked at the images flickering across the screen, sensing that boy and young man within.

“A Whaaaat?”

Just an update on my earlier post regarding my difficulties with the Paul Pierce drawing I was trying (and failing) to do.

I was able to finish it last night, and I’m happy with it for the most part. I still think it could look more like him, but I’m willing to concede that part of that may be due to the facial expression he’s making. It’s not like it’s his typical face, so in trying to capture that emotion while having it still look like him (in the way that he appears in my mind’s eye), I probably stacked the deck against myself. At least in terms of my own comfort level. I think it resembles him just enough for me to feel comfortable declaring the piece finished and allowing it to be auctioned off, but that “just comfortable enough” feeling, when it’s been present, always constitutes an uneasy peace that I’ve made with myself (as opposed to, say this Ortiz drawing, about which I never had a moment’s doubt).

Here’s the finished piece:

Regardless of the perceived lack of resemblance to Pierce, I like what’s going on in the piece. It has a more rushed/sketchy feeling than I usually render (I’m often guilty of trying to be too fine, usually at the expense of the work). It probably came out that way because after drawing four or five iterations of his face, trying to get it right, and finally settling on a version I could actually live with, I hastily dashed out the rest of the drawing just to get away from the glacial pace I had set.

Anyway, it’s up for auction now, with a bid of $300 on it so far. So between this and the Ortiz piece I donated, I’m responsible for almost $1000 going to fight ALS. As I said in my post regarding the Ortiz drawing, that’s money I’m in no position to contribute out of my own pocket, so to be able to do it this way has been rewarding. Plus, I caught a 3-ton shark in the process… or perhaps the better analogy would be that I caught a tiger shark (“A whaaat?”) in my search for a great white, but hey, I gotta be pretty happy under the circumstances.

“He’s a Smart Big Fish, He’s Gone Under the Boat.”

This moment was the first time Quint realized that he might have met his match, and you can tell that part of him relishes it. After God knows how many years of shark fishing, here was a target that wasn’t playing by the rules, and maybe Quint was going to find out just how good of a shark hunter he really was.

Later, when the shark surfaces, finally showing itself to its pursuers as it leisurely passes by the Orca, Hooper cries out, “That’s a twenty footer!”, to which Quint quietly replies, “Twenty-five. Three tons of him.” You can hear the respect in his voice. 

My twenty-five foot, three ton shark is Paul Pierce.

I’ve been attempting to do a charcoal drawing of him holding his Finals MVP trophy for the ALS auction sponsored by the Sons of Sam Horn, the same auction for which I’ve already drawn the David Ortiz portrait that I blogged about a few posts ago.

I can usually bang out a charcoal piece in a couple of hours, and this one was going well, until I got to Pierce’s face. I just can’t nail his face. I’ve drawn it and erased it three separate times, and I’ve hit a wall. It’s never happened before. With each attempt I attacked it in a different state of mind (whether by choice or coincidence: slightly buzzed, pretty damned drunk, and stone cold sober). Didn’t matter. Snake eyes.

I’m pretty determined to finish it now, not only for the auction’s sake but just to prove to myself I can’t be beaten, but it’s a foreign feeling, and not an entirely unpleasant one. Given the safe and unoriginal nature of the artwork I make, it’s easy to get complacent and then bored (which is deadly), so it’s nice to actually feel challenged for once, tasting the blood in my mouth from the stiff jab that somehow slipped between my upraised gloves.

After the third failed attempt to get Pierce’s face right, I clicked off the lamp above my drawing table, looking at the piece and the chewed-up vacant space between Pierce’s neck and his World Champions cap, and thought approvingly, “He’s a smart big fish, he’s gone under the boat.”

I shall return to the table soon, harpoon in hand. Or knowing me and my creative process, Harpoon IPA in hand. Either way, I look forward to it.

Here’s Your Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…

This was the first piece I ever sold. It was in 2005, a couple of years into my marriage and my first child had just been born, and I figured that maybe it was time to try to parlay my talent into the dizzying riches that so often come to artists (especially untrained ones). It was a commissioned work, done through the Sons of Sam Horn website (a Red Sox discussion board), where I was a member. Since I gravitated toward sports subjects in my art, if there was going to be interest in that type of work, it would be shown by some of the members there.

I posted on the board about being available to do some artwork, and when an interested party responded, my first thought was, Uh oh. It was like asking a woman who was way out of your league on a date — to borrow from Sir Edmund Hillary, because she’s there — and to your surprise she said yes. The unexpected affirmative answer opens up a lot pitfalls that didn’t seem so important when you thought you were going to be shot down.

Luckily the process went smoothly. The prospective buyer wanted a drawing of Pedro Martinez, which was just fine with me, and I had plenty of source pictures to work from. We traded some emails until he decided which one he liked best. I had no idea how to price what I was doing, only that I didn’t want to charge too much because it felt was absurd to be asking for money for this in the first place. I ended up charging $100, which came to net of $70 after the matte and frame. The price seemed astronomical at the time to me, in an I-can’t-believe-I’m asking-for-this-kind of way, even though it broke down to an hourly rate of less than $10 when all was said and done. Not that you can price art by the hour.

Thankfully the buyer seemed very appreciative, so much so that I’ll gladly plug his own entrepreneurial endeavor, Maple Street Press, publishers of the Red Sox Annual, among other things.

So this drawing ushered me into the ranks of the professionals. I sold a couple of pieces after that to some other SoSHers, but between my wife and I having another child and moving from Maine back to Massachusetts, I didn’t pursue it as aggressively as I could have. Looking back, that was probably a good thing. Too much going on in other arenas.

This is a piece that I’m not happy with overall (you’ll sense a theme here). It just seems too fuzzy, I think. Part of that is inherent to the medium (color pastel) and part of that is the crappy digital camera I used to take the picture (it’s actually a still shot from a camcorder), and since the picture is all I have left of the work, it’s bound to taint my view. But still. However, I believe the buyer when he says he’s happy with the drawing (we still meet for beers on occasion), so that’s all I can ask for. It was an important step, this charging-money-for-art thing. Women and power were soon to follow.

Remember When Fast Eddie Heard Vince’s Break?

That’s what this Nomar drawing was to me.

If the Pedro drawing was A New Hope, as established in my prior post (which is the one below this one, not above, stupid blog format), then this was The Phantom Menace (presuming high school and college were The Hobbit, wrong universe but bear with me). We talked about it already, I’m just rehashing because the continuity is hard to follow. The act of drawing the Nomar picture, the spark that was struck, was the equivalent of Newman in a dive bar, shilling watered-down whiskey to bartenders and hearing that unmistakable snap from over his shoulder.

The funny thing is that while I was downright ecstatic when I finished this piece, I’ve since grown to dislike it more over the years, which is the reverse of what usually happens. With most of the art I create, I hate it from the get-go and over time I gradually come to terms with the fact that it might be OK after all. But it takes many years. If ever.

Mostly I don’t like the way his cap was rendered, there’s no gradation whatsoever. His face is a little muddy, too. And once I see something like that, that’s all I see.

But I embraced the artist in me once more because sometimes you simply need to do something you’re really good at. None of these pieces are groundbreaking, and I equate the ability to do them to a kind of autism — I can draw things as I see them — but that doesn’t mean it’s not a skill. In my case, most of the time it’s not even about the act of drawing or the piece itself, it’s just about sitting over a drafting table and feeling like you could do anything you wanted to and it would somehow work, that you were that goddamn good. The flash of intuition that tells you a certain stroke with a charcoal stick will look a certain way, even though you’ve never tried it, and you’re right. And you think, How did I know that? Circuitry that has existed in you since birth, since before that. In the womb. Mapped neurons inside a fetus no bigger than a pinhead. It’s alien in a way… I didn’t choose it, no more than I chose red hair or to be 5’10”. But I hope everyone has something like that in themselves, an instinct they can trust because it’s never been wrong. Mine is a purely impractical talent, but at least it feels like God smiled on me in some way, even if it’s a parlor trick.

I’m really not digging the Nomar piece these days. I think it shows very clearly that I hadn’t been near an inkwell in ten years, but I’m old enough now to take that into account. So I’m proud of it anyway. I remember that my brother-in-law hung it up in his house, and later that year I was there at a party, staying up most of the night drinking (as was usually the case at his and my sister’s parties), and after everyone had passed out or gone to bed I stood in front of this Nomar picture for a long time, nursing my beer and just looking at it. It was a symbol, you see. I heard the break.

This Is the Way the World Began

Sort of. In a Star Wars IV: A New Hope kind of way. In that A New Hope seemed like the beginning, but it turned out there were really three other movies before it, only we saw them 20 years later. “Prequels.”

But now that I think about it a little more, the Tiger Woods drawing is actually the beginning of a third trilogy in a series, not that Lucas has gotten around to making the Star Wars equivalent yet. The whole comparison a little tortured, I admit. But let’s run with it.

OK, so if that’s the case (which I think it is), then the first trilogy, chronologically speaking — Phantom Menace through Revenge of the Sith — would be the series of drawings I did for my groomsmen back in late 2001 through early 2002, pieces to be given as gifts at my wedding’s rehearsal dinner in the summer of ‘02. Although that’s not quite right, either. Maybe it would go back as far as the pen-and-ink Nomar drawing I did for my freshly-minted brother-in-law as a Christmas gift in 2000, in honor of his having joined the family that October.

Now that I think about it, yes, that’s it. The Nomar’s the one. Because prior to that I hadn’t really picked up so much as a pen, a charcoal stick or a paintbrush with a purpose since I left Syracuse in the winter of 1990. Ten years gone. Which would make my high school and aborted college years The Hobbit, if only I weren’t mixing epic sagas.

At any rate, my middle sister Michelle was the first of us to get married (fall of ‘00), and her husband Mike was a Sox fan (of course), so I thought drawing him a Nomar picture as a Christmas gift that year would be a cool thing to do. I never had any brothers, just two sisters, so the arrival of a fellow man into the family who was close to my own age was a profound and welcome change in my life. Despite not having drawn for almost a decade, it was something I wanted to do. And to my surprise, in the course of drawing this picture for him, I found myself enjoying the process. Like the cokehead who lays off the snow for an extended period of time, but comes back despite knowing better, I suppose. *I’ve never done cocaine, but my addiction to animal porn is probably not as relatable.

When Mike unwrapped his gift, I could tell he really appreciated it, but the kicker was that he didn’t know that I had drawn it. He just assumed it was some store-bought piece, until a few moments passed and he saw my signature. Which isn’t really a signature, just my initials and the last two digits of the year in which it was completed; I always got annoyed when artists had ostentatious signatures, drawing attention away from the piece. Digression aside, he liked the Nomar, and I liked that he liked it. So art wasn’t such a useless thing anymore.

I got engaged the following spring, and by that time I had already decided I was going to give my groomsmen some original artwork as gifts, which ended up taking around 6 months to complete (one month/piece for each man in the wedding party). It was a lot of work, but it was an important development for several reasons:
• That I even decided on such an undertaking after being “retired” for so long in the first place.
• I had to bust my ass and stay on schedule, because if I created five masterpieces but wasn’t able to start the sixth due to time running out, the whole concept was shot and I’d be screwed. “Hey, sorry Rob, you don’t get a drawing. I’ll get around to it after the honeymoon.” That I succeeded is all the more surprising because busting my ass and staying on schedule has never been a strong suit of mine in any walk of life, let alone when I was an art student in college, which was the last time I had to match that kind of artistic output.
• I enjoyed the process. A lot. Which is the most important, if I may state the obvious. Creating art (even unoriginal and derivative art such as mine) is an incredibly draining process, and there’s really no reward at the end of it, at least not for me, because I usually dislike the final product. It never ends up being what I saw in my head. So it’s a drag, which is why I buried it for ten years. That and the fact that I curse the skill to begin with, which has never been anything but impractical. I’d feel a lot more comfortable in my skin if I had been blessed with the discipline to study law or medicine, or if I had a nose for finance, or even to wake up without hitting the snooze button seven or eight times first.

But this is what I’ve got instead of those things, and Project Groomsmen worked, which was a refreshing development, given my track record.

Anyway, I think we were talking about the time continuum of the Star Wars universe. You know, it’s not as if I worship the Star Wars canon. Really. It’s just the most appropriate analogy. If six Godfathers or six X-Men had been made, I’d be trying to shoehorn them into this scenario, you can bet. Which is silly anyway, because I’ve already stated this art saga thing is really three separate chapters (chapter equaling trilogy, in this case), while the Star Wars series has only two. But it’s the closest thing. That’s all.

So which drawing is A New Hope, then, if not the Tiger Woods? The first Pedro I did. That was the first piece I actually sold (I really should be posting or linking to pictures of this stuff, by the way). But I’m not, because I want to address each one on its own merits. Which is strange, because I haven’t addressed the Tiger drawing, and that’s what this post is supposedly about.

I’ll get to it. In due time.