Summer House: Ch. 6


Shingo has been hanging out at the Summer House lately. We paint. We sit on the porch in the morning sunlight. We talk art, artifice, and verisimilitude.

I might Shingo a few weeks ago at the art gallery when I went to see if they might be interested in my paintings. Shingo was delivering some of his own canvases, oils painted with bold palettes, heavy, textured brush strokes, and off-balance compositions. I liked his work. I like his personal style, too, which seems another aspect of his artistic expression.

He dyes his hair–eyebrows and mustache, included–bright copper-penny red. He waxes his mustache, so he can curl it like Hercule Poirot.  He dresses in a cross between a left-bank artist and a K-pop idol: striped long-sleeve t’s under a blazer, baggy stone-washed jeans, and flamboyant, impractical shoes.

The contrast between his seemingly simple work and his careful appearance is opposite  my own personal contrast. My current paintings are carefully rendered and delicate, with flamboyant splashes of detail. And my appearance is natural and easy: no make-up on my face, my clothes all natural fibers and line-dried in the sun, my hair an honest gray.

But maybe that’s why we’ve become such fast friends–whether seemingly carefree or carefully tended, we put equal thought and intention into our styles.

I enjoy spending time with someone who, like me, notices beauty everywhere: the sable feather curls of fur on Dixie’s long tail; the hatched shadows traced by the railings on the porch floor when the butter sun shines; the slices of blue ocean, startling, no matter how often we see it; a dart of indigo as a Steller’s jay darts through pines.  We will be talking, and one of us will gasp–Ah! The other will look. We fall silent. We fall into the beauty, then we catch each other’s eye, and we laugh, and pick up where we left off.

“See? This is what I was trying to capture! Did I succeed? No!”

“But it’s a beautiful painting,” I assure him. We look again at his canvas on the easel.

“It is, isn’t it?” he says. A cloud passes over the sun, and we gasp again, for the sudden coolness descends just at the exact moment that the light shifts. “How would you paint this?” he asks.

“I tried to paint cold,” I tell him. “I’m so helpless as a painter.”

“Ah! No! But your work is lovely!”

“I could write it,” I say. “In my poems. I could have this moment when the breeze, and cloud, and sudden shadow stop a person’s thoughts. But in painting?”

He takes me downstairs where I have a coffee table book of Monet’s works.  He thumbs through until he finds The Woman With a Parasol. We both gasp.

“So this is why I have been doing the brush strokes I have been,” he says. “But I see now my composition is all off. What was I thinking, so off-center? It’s Fibonacci–perfectly balanced! But I wanted to catch you off-guard.”

“How does he do that?” I ask. “I am caught off-guard, but it is all balanced, like you say.”

We walk back out to the meadow, Turtle racing before us, Dixie trotting at our side, looking up at Shingo, as if she expects him to rub her ears, Crystal plodding behind.

We stand on the bluff and look at the ocean.

“It is the form that allows it,” he says. “The perfection of the form.”

“It’s the resonance,” I say, thinking of the prelude from Bach’s first cello suite.

We lie on our backs, Turtle leaping over us, Crystal lying against me, Dixie with her chin on Shingo’s thigh. We watch the clouds pass.

“In poetry, the perfect form provides a container,”  I say.

“But what of free form?”

“There is no such thing. There is form in everything.”

I turn to look at him as he studies the clouds. The symmetry of his hands, his face, his limbs.

“What makes us gasp, then?” he asks again.

I close my eyes as the breeze flows over the long grass, carrying the scent of green oats and cattails. Beneath me the earth, above me the sky, beside me my friends. The gasp carries the memory of what we might be, of what we are, of what inhabits the perfection of form.

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