The period between birth and the opening of Star Wars almost ten years later was spent drawing for the most part.
Lots of monsters.
Lots of Wizard of Oz. I had a crush on The Wicked Witch.
Loved the Ray Harryhausen films, etc.
After Star Wars I remember that my mom was in the kitchen doing what moms do and I asked her for 10 million dollars to make a film. She said no so I paced a lot and kept going to school. Not that dropping out of school at the time was any kind of option but it kept me busy while I went off to live inside my head.
I could always draw. And when moms and dads notice such things they rush their precious pumpkin off to art school and all that. And it was weird. I can still recall sitting in with the adult class, this little kid, and painting a clown face step by step with oil paint. I was happy to have some guidance at the time but it had almost nothing at all to do with where my head was.
So I get to high school and am always drawing. One of my teachers finally figured out that I never really studied either.
He confronted me with the fact that I was “winging it” so that I could focus on other things and I asked him what his point was.
I was getting A’s and B’s for the most part which I thought was great for someone who had other plans.
Senior year I even took off Mondays and Fridays so that I could do my homework all at once.
I will say though that Fr. Draper’s class was amazing. He taught us Virgil’s Aeneid out of his head and it is to this day still one of the most dazzling experiences of my life. I was fluent enough in Latin at the time to see that this was one of the most cinematic pieces ever written. Truly mind expanding.
At some point hereabouts it was someone’s bright idea to let me drive a car. Well, actually, they made me get my license and drive a car as it really didn’t grab me as all that exciting at the time. But it did allow me to enroll in some night classes up at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, CA. That place seemed like the key at the time. I was dazzled by the student work on display and got very excited about turning out that kind of work. I thought, “Great!” I would build up a portfolio, apply to the school full time, and make my way into working for George Lucas in Northern CA.
Enter dad – “That’s a vocational school! Do you realize how boring you’ll turn out to be!”
I started looking at four year schools with good art programs.
One school, UC Davis, with a purportedly great art department, was not all that faraway from San Rafael, CA where I wanted to eventually work.
And I heard they had this guy there named Wayne Thiebaud who was famous and such. News to me at the time. I was shown some pictures of cakes and thought that he at least knew how to make something look half way realistic in the midst of what was still a tendency toward abstract work at many of the major universities. There was also this guy up there named Dave Hollowell who worked very representationally and so I thought, what the hell, I’ll apply to UC Davis.
So I’m at school and I take an oil painting class with Wayne Thiebaud and the man knows how to teach. Wow. His level of articulation and direct approach would from day one begin to give vocabulary to things I had not yet known there were even words for. And Hollowell went back and forth with me, pounding the notion of “space” into my head and then leaving me alone and stunned for stretches of time to figure it all out. To this day I still maintain that I learned to paint in a single day from Thiebaud. He did a four hour demonstration of a flower in a little glass of water and I can recall thinking that even a child could do it. Seriously. He didn’t teach me how to make it interesting of course but he taught us how to do it. There are ways of teaching painting that become so encumbered with indulgent crap sometimes that it prevents folks from enjoying what is really a very simple thing in many ways. Shoot – read a book by Winston Churchill called “Painting as a Pastime,” especially if you’re a beginner, and you’ll enjoy one of the best introductions to the whole thing.
Churchill used to paint when he wasn’t coping with Hitler.
Hitler used to paint too but it was really and truly not compelling imagery.
But I digress.
There was another teacher at UC Davis who got my head spinning too. His name was Wally Hedrick and he was such an inspiration that I named a character after him in some of my writings.
No, its not published but maybe I’ll have time.
Anyway, among the lot of them I was somewhat won over. I was in control of my own universe when painting. And the results entranced me. But I have gratefully come far enough to encounter the counterintuitive.
The idea of “fun” has long since given way to “stimulating.”
There is necessary, perpetual discontent. A wonderful discontent. Without knowing it at first we are very much programmed in the ways of viewing and it calls for navigation. Learning to paint has to do with continually learning to see and that’s the exciting part. The success of a painting in the end has so little to do with subject matter but compels us rather with how well it codifies the way in which things relate to one another in this universe. I think of painting as the pursuit of realizing some degree of surrender to these sensibilities through an orchestration of select relationships.