Back when my painting was becoming precise, a time just after late-in-life art school, when I was becoming increasingly sure with light and shade, color and form, perspective and anatomy, back at a time when I had moved to Woodstock and thought I would never write again – one day back then I began to draw an imaginary but real seeming lizard-like armored male figure.
Quite real, I thought, for back then, like much of the time now, I feared the overuse of archetypes.
This figure, which I saw with clarity before I started, would be a compilation of what I hated most. A huge black lizard-like man standing in my way, a lizard in slimy titanium skin and filled with hypocrisy and bigotry, bullying and boorishness, sadism and stupid militarism – a lizard who had suddenly appeared on my most familiar path through the wooded area I loved most in what was now my town, Woodstock.
It had started as a suggested therapeutic writing enterprise – clinical therapy more than art – in which I had selected the villain and written towards my conclusion. A moving exercise in which it felt like something was happening. But it was my old style of writing, the writing I had at this time rejected in favor drawing and painting. The kind of writing in which you are always moving towards a pre-determined conclusion. This particular conclusion did not stay in place long even in that kind of writing, and in painting there was almost instant transformation.
I knew, as I formed the conception, that some people would have different ideas about such a chance meeting with some stranger so unlike what they thought of as themselves. Some might think first that such a meeting would really be an encounter with fine, untapped aspects of themselves. Not me. To me it was clear who and what the enemy was.
Then one day I started on a blank 24- by 36-inch canvas to do the lizard-like figure with a sable-hair brush in a black fast-drying kind of oil paint thinned to transparency with turpentine. This figure that in my head was so clear.
But on the canvas what I started quickly became something else. The black bully figure was supplanted by a quite luscious and mysterious woman.
Involuntarily, it seemed, I moved into color, and what seemed to me a huge, strong woman's face and fine bare shoulders appeared in the foreground, and she was surveying a world I did not recall ever having seen.
This world, this landscape stretching out under her mysterious gaze, looked South American to me – maybe the South America that Pizarro and Cortez found – though that was a continent I had never visited.
And I did not know if I hated or liked this woman. And my anger, so carefully directed at greedy, racist, violence-prone right-wingers and other abusers, was becoming something far more profound that, it seemed now, had always been centered on myself.
In this time when I was not writing.
In this time when there was still so much of my life that I had not written about.
This time when I had not approached any conscious knowledge that the strange place in which I had come into life was a matriarchy where there was little room for maneuver – and also a place where I was meant to be exiled beyond locked doors to cold dark streets.
I had, before art school, stopped writing after 30 years of professional writing because I could no longer follow my plans through writing, because I wanted to find out what had happened and what was happening, not put it into some constructed book outline.
I had turned to painting, something I did not remember ever having done, for it was in visual realms now, where I had little control, as opposed to where I had the allusion of control as a professional writer, that the landscape of my life unfolded and changed.
Every once in a while I bring out this painting, look at that full-color, smooth, tanned enigmatic woman whom I'd meant to be an armored, slippery, sharp-clawed poison-fanged man. I look at this woman and the mysterious scene that began to unfold beneath her as long forgotten stories, concrete stories, from early in my life fought their way back into the life I was living in the present. This smooth woman, who made the sharp-edged reptilian man seem tame
I was busy in this time. New friends. New interests. Travel. Art and nature. A life in art. And in the raw material of theology. And I knew whatever was happening – in this step into mystery – it was only just beginning. Knew it at the moment that the planned lizard became something for which I did not yet have words.
It was not so long before I was writing again and all sorts of mysterious actual people and places appeared – though since then my painting has become increasingly more abstract as my writing has become more concrete.
And then I remembered how much had been happening in my writing, not just my painting, even in these years when I no longer thought of myself as a writer and hardly knew I was still putting words on paper.