I need a name for this painting.
It took me almost a year, which I realize sounds ridiculous given that it’s basically just a blue background, naked tree and various colored blobs functioning as leaves / petals. And I didn’t even paint most of the tree part.
It wasn’t an issue of procrastination as much as it was one of wanting (and being able to) do something on my own terms, in my own zone, without deadline or expectations.
I’m not an artist; who cares if it sucks. It’s not for work; who cares if I don’t finish it.
So each phase of it, I did with deliberation and care. The right music, the right people, the right cocktail.
I did the background first, blue and yellow-gold, on a late January Sunday when it was quite cold and dreary in Nashville and yet there were little pockets of light by mid-afternoon.
My daughter asked if she could have a bunch of friends over to do art projects. I was just like her when I was a kid. Artsy, social, bossy. I’d have friends over and we’d stage elaborate productions for whatever adults we could find to watch them. My poor brother.
Anyway, that Sunday was the beginning of “Sunday Camp,” which became a regular happening in our neighborhood. My Lily would invite all her friends over for some project or another, and she’d tell everyone what to do while I’d alternately follow behind them cleaning up or sit outside reading and drinking wine. After a while, I began inviting my own girlfriends and their kids over. My dear friend Courtenay has renamed it “Sunday Camp With Wine”.
Anyway, while my daughter and her friends painted flowers and hearts on little 4×6 canvases, I painted a “hopeful” blue sky.
A few weeks later, my friend Fran painted the tree, or most of it.
I hosted a lot of parties and get-togethers this past year, most of them fairly traditional: a garden party when the tulips were in bloom, a shrimp boil at the end of summer, a couple of Christmas parties, the aforementioned Sunday Camps with Wine, etc. But I also held a rather weird one in the dead of winter, shortly after my soon-to-be ex-husband moved out, when I was feeling a tremendous need for company and distraction. For my BYO ABC (Bring Your Own Art, Booze or Crafts) Party, I basically asked people to bring alcohol and something to do so they maybe wouldn’t notice my lack of living room furniture or generally strange mood.
I think it shows tremendous loyalty to happily attend a party like that in the dead of winter, especially since (with the exception of one who drove from West End) every single one of them had to come to Franklin from East Nashville. On the other hand, of course the kind of people who’d go to a party like that would live in East Nashville. I mean that with affection.
One friend brought a cross-stitch project. Two brought stool cushions to reupholster. Another brought a kit of electronics and made himself a blinker for his bike. Three opted for booze, sans crafts. One brought her camera and documented the evening. She also painted the tree for me.
I did nothing, really, other than sit there and let the cross-stitch friend play with my hair and the photographer / painter friend take pictures of me on the totally impractical antique sofa I bought just to look pretty in my bedroom. And delegate. That’s an art, right? Delegating?
Even with the tree more or less done, I let it sit there in my office, bare and unadorned for ten months.
People would come over and see the unfinished artwork sitting on its easel and say, “Oh, you paint?” and I’d say, “Well, no, but I want to.”
Or if they’d been to my house more than once, they’d say, “So… What exactly are you gonna do with that tree?”
And I’d tell them the story – or, rather, my recollection of the story – I heard at church in December when I bought the canvas in the first place:
It’s Buddhist, and involves a tree made of jewels, and the jewels are multi-faceted, and they appear as different colors depending on the light and distance in which one views them. I thought it was a rather lovely story – a kind of metaphor for life and love – and how I wanted the tree to reflect that, and that when I finished it, I wanted to hang it in my foyer so it would be the first thing anyone saw when they came over because that’s what I want people to feel in my house: life and love.
If they weren’t afraid to come back to my house after that, they might be brave enough to ask, “When are you going to finish that crazy emo tree painting?” and I’d say, “You know, when I feel it. When I feel it, yo.”
Anyway, today – after a most awesome holiday season and everything from John Prine and Johnny Cash to Tristen and Josh Rouse playing – I felt it.
Cheers – (life and love! maybe a cocktail or a playlist!) – to whoever figures out what to call it.
If I name it myself, it could take another year.