To mix things up a little, I’m working on some small still life paintings. Well, more portraits of fruit, actually. I have a lot of difficulty arranging things in a seemingly haphazard yet artistic way, which is how these things used to be done (Cezanne, you great noodle!). However, as this is the 21st century and Martha Stewart has taken over the artfully-arranged-table-movement, now I can just paint fruit like I mean it (Uglow, you other great noodle!). So that is what I’m doing.
The joy and the folly of still life has a practical basis: you must paint faster than your subject ages, decomposes and eventually liquifies. You must hope that a heat wave doesn’t intrude on your plans, and that the local wasps don’t figure out what you’re up to. I have three painting speeds- sprints (for ephemeral subject matter and portraits of people who don’t like to sit still), marathons (previously referred to as my “asthmatic snail pace”), and a middle setting which I call “the leisurely jog”. The still life work I’m doing now falls into the leisurely jog category. It is time limited by the subject’s inevitable decline, but there are also things I can do to lengthen that time period. For example, I’ve been known to construct little nests for pears, layering softer materials close to the fruit’s delicate skin, building up to a hard, protective shell around that. The whole contraption takes up a lot of space in the fridge between painting sessions, but it’s art, so sacrifices must be made. Also amusing is the opportunity to have friends over, offer no explanation for the fruit apparently being held prisoner in the icebox, and observe their confusion.
Inevitably, and despite my best interventions, the fruit ages. It slumps and wrinkles. When I move it to its nest for the night, it leaves strange fluids behind. It makes me wonder if my experience of old age will be similar. Towards the end of the painting, the fruit in front of me bears little resemblance to the sprightly thing with which I began, but I stick with the process anyways. I’ve never brought in a ringer. The food I start with is, by God, the fruit I finish with. Even in its changed form, I can see the spark of what it once was, the peculiar weight and list of it, and the unique way in which it grew and aged. If that is also something I find in the closing years of my own life, then the symmetry will be complete. And I could do a lot worse.