A painting is never finished—it simply stops in interesting places. —Paul Gardner
My aunt Prudence was raised in a proper English home. In her late teens she was sent to “finishing school” where they teach you about correct fork usage and appropriate topics of conversation. She quit and ran away to America and married a Texan. In a family that toasted the queen at lunchtime, this is a particularly “vulgah” thing to do. She spent the rest of her life drawing and sculpting. Sadly, I never met her.
After hanging two shows in a week I feel worn and somewhat “finished”. So today has been luxurious…I got out my cookbook and selected five recipes. I store my recipes in a thick blue binder. They all fall out. My mother had a recipe binder just like this.
On this wild and windy day I try out a recipe for “Hiking Cookies” given to me years ago by Shelley. Shelley is one of those graceful women with sparkly eyes and long grey hair who has no idea how stunning she is. She home schooled her kids in the bush and spent a decade building a log home. Whatever is de rigueur with the log cabin builders, like making your own tools from scratch or chewing the bark off with your teeth, I expect Shelley did. That is why I trust her recipes.
After pulling the my virtuous seed filled hiking cookies out of the oven a friend who is a novelist drops by and sits at our kitchen counter sighing over the painstakingly slow process of her latest work. Another friend phones delighted with herself; she has spent months procrastinating over which art idea is truly truly good enough to pursue. This week she has gotten over her initial fears and is producing and consequently feeling grand.
Luckily, starting a new work is not a problem for me since my mental health depends on my painting regularly. I’ve never felt stumped by a blank canvas. There are very few days I don’t paint. “Produce lots and see what happens” has always been an easier philosophy than “produce the perfect work”; a concept, which I believe, spooks most of us.
In the 34 years I had with my mother she must have said twice a year, and with terrific gusto, “Soon I’m going to sort through that binder of recipes,”
I suspect she had in mind a tidy little box with the recipes neatly copied out by hand. I always wondered why she said she was going to do this when the subject had simply become laughable. Perhaps she might make time for it when she no longer was cooking for four kids. But then my father left and she lived alone, often ill from chemo (the word chemotherapy doesn’t come easily).
In retrospect, the moment of holding my mother’s crumbling recipe binder following her death in seems momentous. She had a lifetime as a homemaker; so many recipes she never got around to, and then those she must have made a hundred times. For instance there was a seafood dish that she served baked set of identical broad white shells. She only ever served that at dinner parties where kids stayed upstairs. I don’t think I ever tasted it. Or Torsten’s dessert: an orange mousse served in a wavy glass bowl reserved for this dessert alone, named after a childhood friend of my sister’s that had otherwise been forgotten.
Today, tired from my marathon of the last few weeks, I’m trying to ignore the fact that each room in my house looking neglected. I’m grateful to be taking the time to leaf through my messy recipe binder, reminding myself that each day is a gift, that some things don’t get finished.
Thinking about this I remember times when I’ve pushed myself to the National Gallery where I soak up works by someone like Emile Borduas or Jack Shadbolt and I come home with fresh resolve not to finish anything ever.
And it is possible that the quote above actually allows me to start many a painting, giving me space for things to simply unfold. Hopefully lots of cookies to take hiking over the years to come. There is little doubt for me that my kids will inherit a messy binder of only partially tested recipes.