Monday, January 18, 2010

Reflecting, on being 50

I went to the trail out of town today, at the end of the day, on my bicycle, as the sun sank down, and with only an old sketchpad and a thick pencil. Though January, it was warm, like Spring, and the bees had been swarming out our hives like it was April, and for hours I'd thought I had better go and paint at the river and not miss the day. But by the time I had packed up paints, the sun was already too low, and so I left only with sketchpad and pencil.

I don't think I've ever gone to the river with only paper and pencil, but the inspiration comes from reading AY Jacksons memoirs, and seeing his sketches, page after page, with notes, all across Canada, and searching out what was important in a landscape for painting, but not trying to make art out of the sketch, only distilling the essence of what was there, to allow for a painting later. Not exactly his process, I understand, as he would usually sketch after the painting, to catch the subtleties I think, that would be lost later in the studio as the work progressed.

So among the joggers and dog walkers and people talking on cell phones as they walked, and the periodic family on bikes, I sat a mile down the trail at a bridge, and sketched a tree and how it was black against the sky, and how the fields made lines, and how the far hills shaded into the nearer trees, and the boundaries of branches. With a pencil and a sketchbook that were both close to 30 years old I suspect, dusty and with the cover half off, the sort I used to draw in when I was a teenager. And so in part it felt, like roots, like trying to get back to why I was drawing, and just trying to draw and not question it to much, but to follow up the trunks of trees, and how limbs branch and twist, and set out from the trunk, and the way the whole tree cants in a landscape, all of that. A bit hopeless, but I was warm, and comfortable as the fair weather walkers and bikers went by. Not one said a thing, nor I to them, this is how it almost always is. How strange is it to see a middle aged man sitting on the side of a trail sketching with a pencil. Perhaps he is a criminal, or has no friends, or what? I never see this sort of thing, and nor do they, and so I sometimes wonder, how does this fit into their making sense of the world- to see someone sketch in winter? I could count on one hand the number of people that ever spoke to me while painting for the past 30 years. Odd. Not that I'd want them to, I very much prefer to be hidden and left alone, unless it were another artist to talk to.

This all on the cusp of being 50. For which I don't really have much to say, thought I feel that it is momentous. Momentous in some ways, I think, as it seems OK, i feel like I get now that youth really is gone, and that i shouldn't really expect many great successes , that the thought of making a mark on the world, or an impression, is now reduced, and not so important. Not that it ever was, I suppose I thought it would come on its own accord, without effort, which it never did, obviously, so being 50 is sort of like a final resting point for me. Odd to say, I don't mean it is death, just that it is OK and I don't feel like raging about how it all slipped by. Which it did.

My concern now, if I were to set out some goals, is to try to paint and draw more than I ever have, to make some images and some sort of "body of work", to not die painfully, to take care of my spouse, to try to get a few more adventures in, to not try to make enemies, to do my best to love my friends, to try to learn some music, to finish our house, to visit the desert again, or Asia, to see some more great paintings in a great museum or two. Its a short list. I don't really want to travel all about or learn how to jet ski. Health, of course, is the great hinge, and our recent experiences with the deaths of friends, or their illnesses, is constantly part of my thinking, that it is best to be healthy, but if not, to be OK too, that it would be misfortune, but to try to leave the world also at peace, and not crazy or unhappy, that would be great end. Hard to fathom that it could be so. So, at nearly 50, the real challenges being, and I am feeling OK about this, not as despairing as at 40, and only slightly clinging, grasping, and recognizing how much I like the world. I feel like this is something a 70 year old would say, but I guess that isn't too far off.

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