Onion to go


Almost done. Only the onion to go, plus a little smoothing on the blue walls of the dining room behind the still life. I’ve been thinking of a show built around “interior still lifes” where the surrounding room is as significant as the everyday objects in the forefront. I’m doing this one mostly a familiar and reliable way, one section at a time, working each small area to completion and then moving on, though in places I’m doing lobes of flat color to establish comparative values and then I drop in, by air, and start wandering around in there, raising up actual terrain, wet-on-wet, within those flat mapped out areas of color. I’m going to finish the onion gradually, one centimeter at a time. That’s a carved wooden table my parents gave us, with a couple leafs to allow all of to get around it. Around the table will be our daughter and son-in-law, their new baby, Poppy, along with our son-in-law’s parents, and my parents and my brother. At the center of it all, emotionally, will be the new baby, and then the rest of us who are just hanging around hoping for good things from these younger people. The blue walls and white chair rail in the room were Nancy’s choice, so it’s a kind of earth-and-sky thing in the painting, with the blue napkin under the candy dish. (An onion is like candy to a real cook, isn’t it?) I lied about that wall color when I changed it to a dull orange in a quick still life of a cream pitcher on that same table, which I sold in my last show at Oxford Gallery two years ago. I miss that painting. This is a completely different piece of work. There’s more Velazquez than Manet in this one, though that was something I realized only as it was happening. (Manet worked under that Spanish influence and broke free of it without losing everything it taught him, but I’m splitting the difference here a bit.) The onion is going to be a challenge, with the satiny color of that translucent and bronze skin, but that’s making me eager to get to the easel as early in the morning as I can. This painting has been a turning point for me in my work for the two-artist show at Oxford Gallery in March, because from the very start I couldn’t wait to get back to it, just wanting to dig with paint into the carved shapes of that wooden table. (I was even thinking about this painting while I sat at the bar at Parnell’s on First Avenue last weekend, three hundred miles away from it.) It felt like reshaping that table with my brush as I made those relief carvings appear on linen. It grew out of a photograph and I didn’t settle on the image until, eventually, I aimed the camera downward to do justice to that table and the way the light played on it. Maybe I’ve made that onion harder to reach than ever, having jinxed the process by talking about it. We’ll see.

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