the promise of painting

I sit in the studio.  It’s a strange place, a place that needs befriending again.  Works – completed, half finished, barely begun, peep at me.  They are as shy as I am.

I line up my palette.  A sure remedy for any hint of hesitation or creative block is, for me, to simply start playing with color.  It saves me every time.

But this time the muse arrived absurdly, promiscuously fast, as though she’d been bursting at the seams and could no longer contain herself.  She crashed in when the top came off the linseed oil bottle, giddy with delight.

Something came to mind – a piece from John Berger’s pen.  Ah, yes.  Just so.

Then he opened a bottle of linseed oil and he handed it to me as if he intended me to take a swig.  Did he know what the effect would be?

I sniffed it and I forgot my frustrations.  I was twelve years old again.  I was with my first box of oil paints and my first palette the size of a school exercise book.  I was handling the tubes with their exotic, distant names.  Indian Red.  Naples Yellow.  Burnt Umber.  Raw Sienna.  And the mysteriously named Flake White – suggesting snowflakes in a blizzard.

The smell of that oil (the same oil with which one softens putty when putting in a window pane) took me back half a century to a promise.  The promise of painting and painting.  The promise of doing it every day of your life, and thinking about nothing else until you are dead!

– John Berger, Photo Copies: Stories


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