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Discomfort zone: wine and painting


Laura Dickensheets

Me, in mid-canvas. No, that's not a cloud of mustard gas cresting the hills. Please. It's a green sunset. Very modernist.

“Someday,” Bob Dylan sang, “everything is gonna be diff’rent / When I paint my masterpiece.” Same here, Bob, and I’m off to a rousing start: I mean, man, that’s a nicely nuanced sky I’ve just swabbed across the upper two-thirds of my canvas! Perhaps the wine is helping? Look at those blue undulations, so gently suggestive of emotional as well as atmospheric depth! And those clouds — are they not white smears of pure existentialism? That sky is heavy. I’ve gotta believe it’s in the upper quartile of the several dozen skies painted in today’s session at Pinot’s Palette. I bolster my confidence in that assertion by carefully not looking at anyone else’s paintings.

You know what I’m talking about, right — Pinot’s Palette? Located in The District, it’s one of those wine-and-art things where people who can’t paint drop $35 a head to spend two hours not really learning how to paint, and having fun doing it, and drinking wine. Democratizing artistic production. We’re all painting the same image, a tropical beach with a rockscape across the bay, some palm fronds in the upper left and a burst of red flowers in the foreground. With just the sky in place, I’m pretty sure I’m already winning.

The room’s packed; there are more Y chromosomes in here than I would’ve predicted. Okay, now it’s time to lay some sunset yellow into that sky. I’m on it. Fifteen minutes before the class began, while my wife was up buying the wine — or, as my notes put it, “L. in hooch line” — I was already gaming my canvas: sky like this, rocks like that. Not that I’m competitive or anything, I just want to win. That there is absolutely nothing to win, because this is not a competition, doesn’t deter my can-do spirit.

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The sunset’s problematic, though. My sky was still a little damp, so there is now just enough blue seep that, in a few hours, when a friend will see my sickly green sunset on Facebook, he’ll ask if I was painting a cloud of mustard gas. No, funny man — it's, um ... it's a modernist sunset, reflecting the corruption of the human spirit even in a place of tropical beauty ...? Why yes, that's exactly what it is. And speaking of mustard gas, what’s with this music? A teen kid gets up and dances with his grandmother to, ugh, Michael Jackson’s “The Way You Make Me Feel.”

“You can sing, dance, whatever you want to do, we don’t care,” our instructor had announced at the beginning. “We just want you to leave loving your painting.”

Roger that. But it’s a tough love at the moment. Beneath the greenish sunset, my sea is not looking awesome, either. To save it, I make a risky artistic decision: Rather than make a conventional-looking sea, I’ll go meta. I brush extra water onto my wavescape so that it drips and runs bluely down the canvas. It’s embodying water rather than merely representing it. I glance at my mom’s painting; no way she’s making such a bold play — ha! I arch my eyebrow approvingly at my canvas. Very modern!

Alas, my confidence deflates with the fronds. We’re supposed to depict a batch of palm leaves dangling into the picture frame. Sure. Fronds sound nice. Too nice. I want something more … complicated. Strange. I want to impart to my fronds a subtle malevolence, a sinister tentacular agency, as though they might suddenly lunge for you. Tropical noir, you see. But the limits of my artistic ability, about which I’ve been in denial until now, can’t be ignored. As the paint-daubing continues, then escalates into ever less-precise paint-slashing, these fronds turn not suggestively eerie but just ugly — awkward skeins of green and black and, Gauguin forbid, red. (Seemed like a daring color choice at the time.) Bad as they are, though, they’re not as misshapen as my foreground flowers, which end up looking like a clump of deformed plums. That sound you hear is Van Gogh snickering in his grave.

It's not a competition, I remind myself.

“That was a lot of fun,” my mother-in-law said when it was all over. Her painting doesn’t look any better than mine. She adds, “I can’t believe how much fun that was!”

And I have to concede, it was fun, and that’s not just the wine talking. Do I love my painting? Well, “love” might be a strong word. “Not inclined to immediately destroy it” would be more accurate. But it was great to feel creative, to ponder art-making from the other side of the brush. Would I do it again? Probably. And maybe then I’ll paint my masterpiece.







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