Sunday, December 4, 2016

Wilbo Thinks About Painting As He Watches a Paint and Drink Event in Progress at Vander Mill Cider Mill.

May 12, 2015

I am wondering when painting in bars, painting a simple image in a class where everybody paints the same image, will burn itself out. It's a beautiful idea and yet, I wonder if it arises in the vacuum of our school curriculums, which didn't require enough art classes. I didn't take a painting or woodworking class after middle school, and I'm pretty sure many men and women of my time missed out on the joy of painting. I remembered taking numerous office classes, learning accounting and how to touch type on a keyboard. Look at me now. I'm tapping out words on an iPhone keyboard, no touch typing required. So much for my touch typing education.

Tyler Loftis, the painter & son of Carole Loftis, has triumphed in New York City with his painting. With Chris Protas, he'll be teaching a drawing class in the Fire Barn Gallery, this coming Wednesday. Here at Vander Mills, hard cider is flowing from the taps and dinner fits on a tray under the easel. Loftis & Protas might remember to set out a pitcher of water and glasses. A few of the regulars with more experience in drawing classes, the one who go to Ox-Bow every summer, might bring a bottle of wine to share. Even so, all ten or twenty of the gathered students will draw like only drawing could save their lives. It will be a wild and maybe even a desperate fury to depict the model in a breakthrough way. The two instructors aren't going to give too much paint by number help in how to make a drawing look like the model. They are going to let page and pen teach the eye a few lessons that can only be learned while working. Then, all will go down to the Theater Bar and talk art and then will the glasses be filled with wine.

Ironically, Funny thing is a man who owns a silk screen company is here on the side of the action. He is eating a nice dinner and you can see him making mental notes. His wife, three years his bride, is dining with him. She knows painting because she has an art history degree. So I say to this artist both inspired and practical "So, are you thinking of trying this painting thing?" Of course this man and his silk screen company provides all the canvas for the Grand Haven Art Walk's family painting day. Dozens of kids and their parents get to paint on good canvas with fine acrylic painting for no money at all. And then this fine fellow and his friends hang the finished canvases on clothes lines hung between maples on the shore of the Grand River. And then another team of his friends serve up lunch of chargrilled hamburgers and potato crisps. No beer or wine is served as it is a family painting party. The irony! It's visceral just watching children attack the blank canvases with brushes dripping with paint. Jackson Pollack looks uninspired compared to them.

This class numbered forty students, all of whom paid forty dollars for a palette of acrylic paint on a disposable picnic plate, use of a set of brushes and an easel. That amounts to a big
payday for the company, which trucks around the equipment in a colorful van and employs two sons as assistants. The lead artist demonstrates technique on a taller easel and speaks into the kind of wearable microphone worn by aerobics instructors, stands in a portable spotlight. A friend teaches smaller classes, and usually at locations where women go for a measure of personal retreat, hair salons and yoga studios. Often she begins with an idyllic scene as a model, and the students wind up painting a ridge of birches and an angel of an idiosyncratic visage. It's quite interesting when the class of twenty pose with their wet canvases and each painting shows a different feminine angel. She gets a number of repeat customers who engage her for private study and then quit their jobs after completing a course in yoga teacher certification. Take a painting class, tune in, drop out, chant OM. It might unnerve her when a woman shows up sporting a similar hair style.

I know that a certain portrait painter maintains great friendships with all of his former wives. The last two he has taught to paint incredibly well. Seriously. The last two wives paint as if instructed over years at the Art Student League in New York City. The latest wife has long been his current bride and the two have taken to performing theater together, plays written for husbands and wives, "Love Letters" and "Old Love" and the sort. He has settled down. And it's a good thing. It's quite powerful when his mostly women customers show up for one class in his studio on the salt marshes of the Charleston River and walk out painting landscapes as well as any member of the Hudson Valley School. These transformed women usually meet some nice art collector at their debutante show, organized by the master, and become the second wife of a financier or an endocrinologist or the like. He's too involved in his portrait painting to notice, subjects putting up deposits a year in advance.

I could have taken heed in another century as the year nineteen ninety one belongs to a different canvas of time. I was walking to my favorite bar in Northville Michigan, hosted by a chef who immortalized his female bartenders by having them painted as Metropolis styled woodland creatures under the shellac of an antique pine bar. He would commission one every few years or so, and had begun a series of the daughters of his veteran bartenders. Rich men would stay for hours to be served by the daughters of women who had served them a first rocks glass of whiskey older than a year old. On the way, Caroline Dunphy had an illuminated window where she would post the day's watercolors, often set near the old schoolhouse on the Rouge River, a historical wonder moved their by the village men and surrounded by perennial flowers by their wives. All of these dailies of day lilies or the like would be sold and replaced by the middle of Saturday. In a nearby window, a man who had retired early from his post as a tenured philosopher would look over the shoulders of ten women he was teaching the decorative art of stenciling. He expanded his retail space twice while I lived near downtown Northville.

Take up the brush now and learn from love rather than pain?
 — at Vander Mill.

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