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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.