Stepping round the corner from the main gallery I find myself in the children’s room, a kindergarten class in tiny chairs down either side of a long, low table. Each child has a piece of white cardstock and is putting colored bits of paper on it.
I sidle up to a boy, “what are you doing?”
There’s a tiny chair empty beside him. I can’t help myself.
“Do you want to be Matisse too?” A gallery docent stands over me. She gives me a card, scatters a handful of colored shapes on the table. They’re shiny plastic that you can peel off the backing, stick it to the card —
“Done.” My seatmate holds up his Matisse. Two rectangles side by each, one yellow, one blue, a series of orange circles travelling to the edge of the card, a red dot.
“Very nice,” I tell him.
He reaches for a new card, begins another one.
I look at the shapes in front of me…there’s jagged ones, two greens and a blue, a big yellow circle, a strip of orange, three red dots and a lavender square. I put them on the card, each in their own space. Change their positions. Again. Again. Move them into the center. Pull one out. Line them up in a row, arrange them overlapping–
“Done.” The boy holds up his second Matisse, four circles with yellow strips leading to another single red dot. He reaches for a card and begins a third.
I stare at my shapes. I make a stick person with a yellow head, orange stick body, square lavender bum, two jagged arms and one leg….no. I make a flower with three red dots in the yellow circle, an orange stem, two jagged leaves… no. I get rid of the jagged pieces, line the circles and square on the orange stick…no. I make a sort of bunny head… a sort of snowman…no….
“Done.” My seatmate begins his fourth Matisse. I haven’t applied one piece of sticky paper to my first. His efforts are lined up on the table in front of us. The third one, all blue overlapping squares with a jagged piece of orange and off in the corner again his signature red dot. Each of them has a ‘something’ about it. None of them look like anything specific but there’s a clear intent, an assured sense of purpose. And that satisfying red dot.
I turn to ask, “How do you — ” and stop.
Eyes squeezed shut, he’s moving the shapes about on the card in front of him, fingering the edges of the shapes, the edges of the card. He removes one shape, feels blindly for another. I watch as they magically sort themselves into a picture. He opens his eyes and looks at it. Adds the red dot.
Around the table the other kids have grown bored. They’re having juice and cookies, sticking the shapes on themselves, on each other. The docent peels red dots from one girl’s arm. She’s not happy about it.
I close my eyes, feel for my shapes. The circle, the square, the stick, the jagged pieces, where’s the red dots –
Then it appears: a sun on a beach. A lightning bolt…a bad hairdo…blue and green trees, sunlight beneath them, lavender square of shade, three apples fallen into a fire –
“Very nice.” The boy smiles at me.
He couldn’t know, as I don’t either, that right here, right now, is where it begins and will not stop, that from this moment I’ll paint on anything… dishes, garbage, planks of wood, lampshades, door frames, laundry room walls, mailboxes, glassware, aprons and chairs, cowstools and plant pots, bread boxes and toy trucks, rowing paddles and strips of fabric, babies’ high chairs, bits of fence, little boxes and balled-up paper, pencil holders and porcelain Buddhas, corkboard, greeting cards, gardening gloves and finally, canvas. He couldn’t know that my habit to paint will in time consume a room, take over every spare shelf and closet space, wake me with a thought or color and create a constant need to have brush or pencil close at hand.
“Thank you,” I tell him. The distance between his five years and my thirty five vanishes, in the blink of Being Matisse.
“Yup.” He gets back to work.
copyright Karin Konoval 2010