Wednesday, November 14, 2007

My Main Man, Sam

As you can see from the accumulating art-related posts, I am celebrating my new relative freedom from organizing and preparing for annual events and rehearsing speeches and solving crises and attending to last-minute issues.

Some people may do that by enjoying a nice glass of wine or a cold mug of beer. Some will go on a shopping spree. I am doing what I have missed the most during all these weeks (months, even!) - tidying up my studio, delving into my art supplies, and using them.

Following my decision to stop using other people's images as a reference, I have started to browse through the vast treasure of the long forgotten photos I took on my own; each and every one of them tells a story, invoking a memory from another place and time.

And so, I'd like to introduce you to Sam.

We met Sam on the little island of
'Atiu, in the Cook Islands. A fascinating island, composed of bush and petrified coral, with its own culture and lifestyle. As opposed to the neighboring islands, 'Atiu's stormy shores prevent it from being a turquoise haven for laid-back swimming and snorkeling vacation, no fancy resorts or restaurants. Obviously, it does not get that much traffic; during the 2 days we spent there, the number of tourists on the island was a record: all 13 of us!

Such a tiny island, with so much to do! During our short time there, we visited the '
Atiu Fibre Arts Studio (and brought home 3 stunning works of fiber art), went on a traumatic hike to see birds that live in a cave (why traumatic? 'cause walking on that petrified coral was like walking on many, many knife blades), enjoyed a tour to a coffee plantation, danced with the local kids at an island night, and - went to a tumunu ceremony hosted by Sam and The Boys. In a small hut, hidden in the bush, we were offered beer brewed from oranges left to ferment in a big wooden barrel made of a coconut trunk. We all sat in a circle, and one wrinkled man, whom we shall call the barrel keeper, was dipping a coconut shell in the barrel and handing it to each of us. The coconut shell circled around once or twice (very few of us went for a third round - needless to say, The JohnnyB being one of them), the beer was warm, with a faint taste of oranges, and very strong. To the horrified dainty ones amongst you - yes, there was a lot of double-dipping going on.

While the others were enjoying the dizzying beer and listening to the music played by "the boys", I was ogling the leader of the gang, named Sam. He sat there, introvert, watching it all with the indifferent eyes of a man who has seen far more interesting views than a bunch of tourists at a paid ceremony. He looked tired. And sick. And sad. And so vulnerable. He made me want to cry. He had a face that was just asking to be commemorated - one of those faces that grant an award to the lucky National Geographic photographer who gets the perfect shot.

Being the touristy event that it was, everyone took photos of each other, the hut, the scenery, the beer - and I snatched a close-up of Sam. An amazing photo. So amazing, it is a huge challenge to paint, and quite intimidating to capture with my brush. There is not much I can do to improve it, and it's so precious I'm scared to mess it. Alex Powers, in his book "Painting People with Watercolor" (a serious candidate to be the best book about portrait painting), says "When a subject for a painting is extremely exciting... it inhibits changes and consequently curbs creativity."

Yup - I am now facing exactly this.

And yet, how can I resist?

Our visit to 'Atiu was 4 years ago - and Sam's photo kept haunting me all that time, waiting for me to get good enough to dare painting him.

Well, I don't know if I have reached that desired state of being, or whether I ever will. But - yesterday I made the first attempt.

A failed attempt, in my humble opinion. And yet, just like when making crepes, the first one is always sacrificed, as it comes out burnt, overworked and soggy. Once I got the first rendering of Sam out of my system, I was free to get more creative and daring.

This second one was done 'just for fun' on bristol paper, with the Elegant Writer and some layers of light watercolor washes. I think it managed to capture the expression.

My third attempt was done following WackieM's weekly drawing challenge: a shape drawing. An excruciatingly hard thing for the line painter that I am.

Still, as the word challenge is blurted into the air, the Aries in me starts galloping towards the gauntlet...

...and now I am seriously considering converting to shapes.

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