An American in Barcelona, A Painter´s Story
Everything that has happened in the past few months has compelled me to slow down and check my compass, to take a closer look at life and the paths I have taken up to now .
The pandemic, among other things, continues to make this time, this year, a challenging and uncertain one. While this is true, it has also been what I see as a harvest time in the the early autumn of a journey. It´s a time to pause and express one´s gratitude for the fruit of one´s labor and loving attention to the good Earth and one´s fellow living beings. Now is the moment to consider, perhaps a little more carefully, the seeds one will plant and in which ways one might do a little better as one moves forward.
I am in the middle of life´s journey, “Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita
mi ritrovai per una selva oscura“. Sometimes I wonder how and why I came to be where I am today, in Barcelona. And sometimes the story changes. Much like when we are painting something such as a landscape, or a person, the way the light, the time of day,the way we´re feeling at the moment, all serve to alter the thing we are observing. But the subject of our contemplation remains the same, at least it appears so. We are chasing after some version of the truth, at least some imperfect version which makes sense and satiates our desire to understand. Memory, as it turns out, is not as reliable as we thought it was. Memories are, at least in part, fictional inventions, like paintings, semblances, approximations. However, like paintings and bedtime stories, they contain moments of beauty, which reassure us and allow us to transcend life´s cruelty and inequities and rest in the promise that everything is and will be all right, even in the midst of uncertainty and darkness. We remember that “Beauty is truth, truth beauty, —that is all / Ye know on earth”. And so we return to them from time to time.
A Painter´s Dream
Barcelona, Spain is a long way from Lake Mills, Wisconsin. I came here and made it my home nearly fifteen years ago now. I was following a dream, a painter´s dream.
I remember when this dream came to me. It was in 2005 in the Metropolitan Museum, standing in front of the 1905 “Au Lapin Agile”, by Picasso. The painting tells, or rather suggests, a story, and it is steeped in the romance of early 20th century Bohemian life in Paris. This inspired me a lot.
“In this celebrated work, now an icon of life in bohemian Paris at the turn of the last century, Picasso depicts himself dressed as a Harlequin. He is accompanied by his recent lover Germaine Pichot. Previously, she had been the fatal obsession of Picasso’s great friend Casagemas, who committed suicide in 1901.”
Au Lapin Agile is a real place, a small cabaret in Montmartre, Paris, popular in Picasso´s time. You can visit it next time you are there. I did, in 2011. But that is another story for another time. Later, C. G. Jung recognized Picasso’s Harlequin as “an underworld character, a master of disguise associated with the occult”. That story, but more than that, his life story told through his art, drew me in. I wanted to walk and live and paint in the places, on the same soil, in “that part of the world” where he did. And not only him, but other artists such as Van Gogh, Cezanne, Matisse, and many more. This became something akin to a pilgrimage, and as I saw it, I was something like a pilgrim, a painter pilgrim. I wanted to live my story, and tell it in paint. And so, there I was, standing in front of this painting from 1905 in the year 2005, a hundred years later. I made the decision, then and there, to make the move. I used to visit the Met a lot during my time in New York. I preferred to visit in the evening on Friday or Saturday night when it was quieter and within the stillness of the museum halls and galleries I could see the paintings better, I could listen to what they were telling me. This one (Picasso) told me that art is not a specator sport, that this move would be about inhabiting the places depicted in these paintings, and then somehow making art from the life I was to find there, in this place I had chosen, Barcelona.
A Quiet Farewell
From the moment I made that decision in 2005 till the time I left New York a year later, I continued to visit the Met Museum each week at around the same time, Friday and Saturday evenings. Visitng the paintings there was like visiting old friends. Now we had a secret. I would soon be leaving. I felt excited, inspired, but also sad. I was now having to say goodbye to friends there, both the painted ones and the real ones. Most of the real ones except for a few didn´t know about my plan, it was a secret, but the paintings knew. They knew because I told them, in whispers soft but determined, there in the hushed silence of the museum. I arrived in Barcelona on a one-way flight in in April, 2006.
A Painter´s Story
This is only a small part of my story, only one of many. There are stories within stories, all contained within a greater story which is our collective story. Some people say that everything is written, who knows, that might be true. In some way, that would reassure me because that would help me to understand the cruelty we do to each other and to other living things, that it was all inevitable unavoidable, it had to be. And yet, at least some of what happens does seem avoidable. I want to believe, and do, that cooperation, kindness and compasion is who we really are. We all contain and have the capacity to cause suffering or to help to end or at least alleviate it, to destroy or to create. We do all of the above, I know I have. But what will predominate? Where do we focus our efforts? The choice is ours to make. “that which we are, we are,
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will”.
My story here has been very different from Picasso´s and very different from the way I imagined it might be in my fantasies and dreams I had of my life here while still living in New York. However, it has been my story, as your story is yours. I left Wisconsin for reasons I still don´t entirely understand, and I probably never will. I suppose I was both running after and away from something(s). Now, I feel that in some ways it´s all the same, the people, the places. I´m not sure what the second act will bring, if I am fortunate enough to have one. I do know that I will continue to do the best I can as a painter and more importantly as a person, staying true to the place I come from and striving to maintain honesty and be kind wherever I am, wherever I go. I feel that I can call all these places, Wisconsin, New York, Barcelona, home. And I can visit anytime I want, if not in person, at least through memories, and paintings. With all this in mind, with fire and passion, determination and love in the heart, one continues,