In Connecticut

Isabella Brandt by Rubens

Isabella Brandt by Rubens

What I miss most about the city is the ability, even the necessity, of walking to everything. The movies!  The drugstore!  The bank!  Now when I take a walk I don’t get anywhere.  I miss my studio, and my studio apartment, both emblematic of my freedom to make art, day or night.  I miss my art-school classmates and teachers, although I don’t miss critiques or criticism.  One of the really great things about finishing my degree is knowing I can make my own art.  Not that I am, exactly.

What I don’t miss about the city are the dogs and the dirt, the subways, and feeling nervous walking at night.  In Connecticut I have a house which is enormous compared to my place in New York.  There are rooms with nothing in them.  I have a basement and my own washing machine and dryer.  There is grass.  There are trees.  Life is good.

It is my choice to be here, yet I am occasionally nostalgic for the crowds and the street noises and the lights that shone in my windows all night long.  Living in exurbia (beyond the suburbs, but not quite the country), I have learned to be wary of sounds again.  Two nights ago, I could have sworn there was a bear in my house about midnight, given the scuffling that I heard.  Sadly I could not blame it on neighbors or elevators.  It was just me and a random grizzly that had broken in somehow.  I slept with the lights on because otherwise it is DARK.  In the morning I tried to convince myself that it might have been the plumbing (no signs of bear).  But I’m still not sure….

Vincent van Gogh

Vincent van Gogh

For the past three months I’ve been decompressing about school, and spending a lot of time at work, but now I’m starting to get the itch to paint.  Bright colors and thick globs of oil paint – yes.  Or thin gouaches on pen and ink drawings.  Maybe I’ll make Barbie pictures again.  Some people in art school hated those!  I’m setting up my new studio, and I’ve started to dream about art. I’ve been looking at some favorites: Rubens’ portrait of Isabella Brandt, van Gogh landscapes, and Wayne Thiebaud, always.

Here are the first two drawings I’ve done since I graduated.  I should have been working, but instead I grabbed a brown sketch book.  I drew the plastic pig that sits on my desk (it poops jelly beans – never not funny), and my Diet Coke can.  Wite-Out, although not covered in my methods and materials classes, proved to be a delightful medium.

two brown drawings 14 07 2

two brown drawings 14 07 1

There is a lot of very good art here, some of it being made by friends.  And rather than being torn between two very different places, I’ve decided to “bloom where I’m planted”. The next time I go to New York, I’ll be a visitor, not a New Yorker.  That’s a little bit sad, but I am quite happy in the evenings in my quiet house on my quiet street, climbing the stairs to bed.

Still Crazy After All These Years

Low Tide - Old Saybrook

Low Tide – Old Saybrook

I spent a large part of last week and the Labor Day weekend back in my Connecticut home town, relaxing a little before the start of the new school year.  It was wonderful to catch up with my family, to turn off my work email, and to do almost nothing productive. But I did stop in at my undergraduate art school, Lyme Academy, to view the current alumni and student exhibits, and I was struck both by the quality of the art and how different it is from what I see in New York.

Jack Broderick's La Boca

Jack Broderick’s
La Boca

Lyme Academy teaches the skills needed to produce representational and figurative art. At the School of Visual Arts where I’m getting my M.F.A., skills are rarely discussed, and aside from a few of us diehards the students are not producing representational work.  It’s all abstract, and conceptual, and performance, and video.

Alex Cox Untitled

Alex Cox

When I’m in Old Lyme, my heart sings to see blue shadows cross nude figures and then climb up the wall.  When I’m in New York, I respond to pain and ugliness in art.  In Connecticut I will spend two or three hours drawing the random still life on the coffee table – emphasizing light and dark, perfecting the ovals that represent circles in perspective, and working very hard to achieve a likeness of my subject matter.  There is no such thing as too much time spent drawing the label on a Poland Springs bottle.

Andrea Anderson's Max Thompson Chevy

Andrea Anderson’s
Max Thompson Chevy

But in New York I draw with my left hand to achieve an unattractive immediacy. Everything is faster and uglier.

One of my New York pieces   with an unquotable title.  At 8 months old, it is due for urban renewal.

One of my New York pieces with an unprintable title. At 8 months old, it is due for urban renewal.

So after this weekend, I finally get it.  Rural coastal Connecticut is full of the seascapes and portraits that are made by artists who know in their bones that life hasn’t changed much in fifty years, and is unlikely to change much in the next fifty.  The tide will always take six hours to go out and another six to come in.  It is possible to paint on the beach for hours and not see more than a dozen people, at least once school starts.

Still low tide in Old Saybrook

Still low tide in Old Saybrook

But in New York, a 20-year-old building is considered old and ripe for tear-down. Walking people regularly race cabs at intersections because they’re in such a hurry. There are beggars on half of the corners I pass.  My realizations aren’t new or profound. You have just to look at Andrew Wyeth versus the Abstract Expressionists, or Edward Hopper lighthouses versus Mondrian’s Broadway Boogie Woogie.  Where we live and work greatly affects what we make.

I guess my question now is whether it’s possible to go beyond back-and-forth and actually integrate what’s happening in the various art worlds. There is pain in small-town New England, just as there is great beauty in the city.  But am I a good enough artist to show you?