In my mid twenties finally went to school for myself. Fully time pottery seemed massively indulgent.
A few months in, my instructor shocked me by asking me if I wanted to do a trade. I blushed. Bruce Cochrane was by all accounts a master in the clay world.
He clarified: “This piece has primitive qualities you may not yet appreciate.”
I was old enough to laugh. Your work is primitive and on top of that; you lack the smarts to even see it.
Today I went out for coffee. I chatted with Paddy, a local café fixture with a white beard and a strong voice, commented; “Your work is all straight lines now. When are you going back to what you were doing before?”
I nodded. “You’re not the first person to say that.”
And then I surprised myself with a sigh. “I guess I’m not here to please.”
Paddy laughed warmly, sparkle in his eye.
How to explain: I carry an aesthetic agenda. I spend a lifetime working towards it, for no reason that I can see. Like taking up bushwhacking when there are perfectly good trails. Why am I so deeply moved to to hone a skill, express a sentiment, or to produce something that I have never seen?
There is no intention to be original or put my stamp on the world—it’s just a skill I yearn to sharpen.
It occurs to me recently that I want a lot.
I want a life with vast amounts of freedom. And I won’t throw suburban aspirations to the wind either. On a hard day I want a soft landing in the arms of a functional family. I want laughter at the dinner table and someone kind and insightful to hold my hand through the decades.
In my mind’s eye I want the full spectrum of the colour wheel, the full tonal scale. I want my warm areas to have a smudge of cool, and my cool areas to have a smudge of warm. I yearn for loose large brushstrokes contrasted with tiny bits of realism and accuracy. I want my paintings to incorporate hard skills as well as the dreamy impulsive qualities of a child’s work.
I want to hit all the notes with as few brushstrokes as possible.
And I’ve done a lot of brushstrokes. The learning is humbling and perplexing. Sometimes this requires holding up the fears and inadequacies, which trip me up daily, and putting them under a microscope.
Surely some worm of hope--recognition, a sense of accomplishment-- lies under each rock.
Back in my pottery days I unsuccessfully tried to produce the same mug twice. I tried to turn every piece of clay into a canvas with frustrating results.. That was after I had given up on the straight path, harbouring insane thoughts at meetings, feeling constrained by the slightest limitations. That was before I had to fess up that I was really a painter, or a hard core creative.
As I was leaving the café I realized, there was a time when I might have responded more charmingly: “Oh Paddy, you want wavy lines? Can do!”.
I headed back to the studio. The bushwhacking astonishes me by continuing to be interesting, hour after hour, year after year.
Like the bumpiness of marriage, I take some pride in my learning, confidence increasing in tiny slivers;hoping the full spectrum of me might lead me to feeling sensible and safe.