Studio

Over a period of almost three years I zigzagged my way toward “Studio”. Its first version - a larger almost-square of black with two of Toshiko Takaezu’s tea bowls sitting on a perfect square of stone, dead-center - simply felt too static, too overblown for its content. Landing on a pile of preliminary drawings I think of as my back-burner, it served only as a springboard (or so I believed) for the next two images, “Cairn” and “Tau”, each dominated by a somewhat taller and more complicated stack of objects that exactly suited, to my eye, both scale and format.

“Stack” followed, a much smaller experimental image in which the central structure of things thinned out to a spire. Suddenly thinking that perhaps “Stack” could resolve “Studio’s” problems, I redrew “Studio”, raising the structure with more cut stones, sticking “Stack’s” tall thin pale-blue bottle behind the bowls for more lift, reducing the dimensions to roughly a foot square, and lo and behold - it didn’t work. “Studio” would not turn into something else, and it wasn’t ready to turn into itself.

In the middle of realizing the next image, “Six Wooden Blocks”, I took a short break and returned to the drawing board, literally, “Studio” still on my mind. I knew that the two earlier versions shared a single problem: scale. Version 1 felt too large, both the objects in it and the overall format; version 2 felt miniatured, like Alice after she sips from the bottle that shrinks her to the size of a keyhole. So I did, finally, what I already knew how to do, what has always - for the past 30-something years - set me on the right track: I walked up to a fresh blank sheet of paper, pencil in hand, “Studio” in my mind’s eye, and spontaneously roughed out the almost square 15 1⁄2” X 15” rectangle the image . . . . . well, wanted. Or perhaps I mean my imagination, the part of my mind that works outside the purview of consciousness and, unbidden, provided me with the idea for “Studio” in the first place. I’m running the risk, I know, of losing my reader’s trust, though perhaps it may not come as a complete surprise that an artist so obsessed with gently but determinedly controlling his medium occasionally finds it difficult to accept those key aspects of the creative process that lie beyond his direct control and cannot be replaced by analytic problem-solving, obsolete solutions, or force of will.

The rest was headache-free. A squat amber apothecary bottle made perfect sense, with a pencil tilting in it and capping the zigzag the eye takes up through the center of the image. A prune plum and an unripe ornamental crabapple, receding in scale but increasing in the intensity of their hues, completed a spectrum of secondary colors: oranges, purples, greens, and several varieties of brown. And it was an easy step to map the constellation of Ara in the pile of stones that constitute a tiny altar, just the right size for a cluster of ordinary, familiar things that raking light and an atmosphere of impenetrable darkness transform into objects of contemplation.

There are personal connections here, strong in the two small nesting tea bowls by Takaezu, who has taught me invaluable life lessons, and in the placement of the pencil - clearly lit at the top and descending through the dark translucent bottle into the unseeable space behind the bowls, a re- enactment of those levels of the mind I’ve already mentioned. Even the 2B pencil itself is an old companion. “Bury me with a pencil!” I told my high school buddies (pharaoh-like, I wanted something to sketch with in the afterlife), but the pencil also provided me with my title. The world I invoke here is my corner of it, my studio, the place where I not only work but also wait - wait for the next picture, for the answers to the questions each picture poses. “Studio”, in Italian: I learn, I am learning.

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