For the past month I have been taking a painting class. I don’t think of myself as a painter. I went to art school when I was 50, and I majored in printmaking.
I love printmaking. I love the process. I love carving the image into wood or linoleum, or scratching it into the wax of an etching plate or scratching it directly into the copper itself. Sometimes I love the accidental results – unintended consequences of transferring ink from plate to paper. Printmaking is full of surprises and delights.
But painting is fun too, and it involves a lot less paraphernalia. It’s highly portable, and can be done in a corner if necessary. For many months now my studio has been occupied either as storage or as a place to set up saws and sawhorses for construction.
My painting class at the local community college consists of 9 ladies, mostly of a certain age, and one old guy. The teacher, Lorna Libert, is great. She is a free spirit, spontaneous, cheerful, friendly, intelligent and pretty. I love her work.
It is bold and funny and full of life and drama. It is color and light and energy and thick luscious paint. I wish I could own one of her paintings but they cost a lot. Perhaps one day I will afford a small one. Most of them are quite large. Spend some time looking at her work at http://www.lornalibert.com/
Lorna begins each class with a short demonstration, and I always learn something – either something new or something I had forgotten and need to be reminded of. I want to learn to stop painting little timid paintings and paint big bold ones like Lorna.
A couple of weeks ago she was explaining how to get distance in one’s paintings. In her usual energetic, bubbly way she was demonstrating starting a painting of Mt. Baker, which is a good distance away. She flourished the brush, tossed her long blond hair out of her face, and giggled a bit as she said, “Okay, here’s Mt. Baker.”
Then she stopped, and said, “Oh, I just remembered! I dreamt about Mt. Baker last night. You know how you dream and forget, and all of a sudden the dream comes back to you? Well, I dreamed that Mt. Baker blew up! I was painting it with a group of other people, and all of a sudden, it blew up. It was gone, just gone.” She stopped, and we were all silent and surprised.
Then I asked, “Were you sad that it was gone?”
“Yes,” she said, after thinking a minute, “I was very sad. I thought, now we won’t have Mt. Baker to paint anymore.”
Once, long ago, I dreamt that the moon blew up. I had recently separated from my second husband, a man I loved despite his many egregious faults. I dreamt I was looking at a bright full moon, high in the sky, and suddenly it blew up. It vanished. The sky was empty. In my dream I was overcome with an agonizing feeling of loss. Never to see the moon again seemed unbearably painful.
As I painted that day in class I thought about the pattern of our dreams. I suppose that the dream world, like the waking world, is specific to the species, and for humans at least, specific to time and place. My world is very different form the world of a nineteenth century desert nomad. But the world of a field mouse or a whale is one I can hardly begin to imagine. Do other animals dream? Is their world incorporated into their dreams as ours is?
If Jerry and I wake up early we often turn on the radio news. For both of us this can mean an extra hour of sleep, because the news is as good as a sleeping potion. We are quickly off to the land of dreams, dreams that weave in jumbled, distorted news stories. I can trace daytime happenings or troubles in fantastic nighttime dream narratives.
Other dreams, though, could have a more ancient or primeval origin. There might be some primitive pattern of brain work that conjures dreams of cataclysmic explosions. I am reading Annals of the Former World by John McPhee. He explains the origin of rocks and mountains with a history of life embedded in them. It is a story of long periods of calm slow change in the earth’s surface punctuated by great catastrophes and sudden upheavals. Life flourishes and proliferates and then is lost in terrible disasters that obliterate up to 90 percent of all the species existing at the time.
I wonder whether DNA could code some primordial record of its own history. Do some of our dreams remind us of the long, sometimes attenuated but never broken chain of life? Or is this all nonsense?
I go back to painting the Lummi Island church. Within the church are other stories of origins.
I think the painting needs something in the foreground. I remember that there used to be a belligerent pheasant patrolling the road that passes the church. He attacked everyone who walked by, I suppose to protect his hen and nest which must have been in the vicinity. One day a dog ate him. Only feathers and bones remained for a while. I missed the pheasant. It was a lot less exciting to walk past the church when he was gone.
I thought the attack pheasant would do well in the foreground of my painting, so I put him there.
And I thought the explosion dreams must be about loss. Had Lorna lost a dog she loved? Had she sold a favorite painting?
My painting looks kind of like a dream. Perhaps it will still exist when I am gone. Perhaps a descendent of mine who isn’t yet born will say to someone else who will exist then, “My great, great grandmother painted that old church. I wonder why she put a pheasant in the picture.”