The day I made love to a painting
My sister lives in eastern Pennsylvania, south of New York City by about 3 hours. Often when I visit her we drive into NYC for a day or an overnight – and a trip I made in 1995 was no different.
Marilyn, her daughter Katie and I decided to go to New York to see the “Origin of Impressionism” show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I had recently quit my corporate job in favor of painting full time, and was eager to see works by my hero, Manet.
At the time I was working on the series, “Are You My Mother?” – paintings taken from small snapshots of my mother and other significant family members. I was not convinced I knew what I was doing, I worried that I had no talent, that my paintings were merely decorative, had no meaning, were full of technique and no vision, etc. etc. etc. – I was engaged in all the acts of self-flagellism that artists have committed through the centuries. At the time, however, I had no way of knowing that I was in very good company.
As we made our way through the over-crowded galleries, I glanced at every painting, but was saving my energy for the Manets.
Then, we turned a corner, and there they were.
I was immediately struck by how large they were – for some reason I expected them to be small and jewel-like, as were the Vermeers I also loved. But these were huge by comparison to other paintings in the show – towering people with minimal modeling, big bold colors, lots of black, unlike anything else I had seen.
I stopped at each painting, struggled to get close enough to really see how my hero applied paint to canvas.
Finally I was standing in front of one of my favorite pictures, and my heart almost stopped.
There, at the bottom of his painting, “The Street Singer” I saw it. One brush stroke. My eyes filled with tears.
He painted! Just like me! He picked up a brush, loaded it with paint, and touched it to the canvas.
I could imagine the flick of his wrist as he laid a highlight to the bottom of her petticoat – just there, one stroke, probably the last stroke he applied to that part of the painting. All of the struggles beneath it were hidden by the mastery of that one bit of paint.
I recognized myself then, and I knew. I was a painter. By no means in the same category as Manet, but still. A painter.
Later my sister told me that Katie, her daughter, had approached her while I was engrossed with the Manets. “We’re going to be here awhile,” she had told Marilyn. “Aunt Gini is having an orgasm in front of every painting.”