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Well, Duh!

March 8, 2010

I’ve met quite a few retired art teachers now, and while they’ve retired from teaching, none has retired from art.

“Well, duh,” you say, as if it’s exactly what we would expect. But why would we expect it?

Perhaps we assume a passion on the art teacher’s part. Not that passion doesn’t motivate people in other pursuits. Retired scientists often read and follow the sciences, sometimes with renewed enthusiasm for new disciplines.

Does a retired chef eat out? Probably not. If a retired farmer can take his favorite tractor with him, he will. Does a retired butcher become vegan? What does a retired musician do?

What does a retired writer do? Read? Probably fly-fish. Fisherman don’t retire.

The idea of retirement is no doubt changing in our changing economy. It would be a good thing to carry our passions with us, whatever we do.

These reflections came out of reading Janet Clemens biography introducing her show of pastels, drawings, and oils at the library.

“Lazy Hazy Stream” was a nice choice for the water fountain nook. I thought of the lazy streams I canoed in New Jersey and Maine with neverending curiosity about what was around the next curve.

I wondered at what age one starts to see things more in the context of the past. On the one hand, when things are familiar, they are familiar. What can one do?

On the other, it’s good to pay attention and not make the present experience a caricature of the specious past.

But then I looked at “Fall Fields” and “Heading to the High Country,” landscapes in pastel, and there was a different sense of familiarity. These are lovingly rendered pictures of home.

I’ll venture to say that all the landscapes in Janet’s show are of our valley and mountains. I didn’t ask Janet about it, though. Come see for yourself.

The small piece titled “Winter’s Near” has a great movement to it that feels like cold wind, and yet it’s “just” a copse of bare trees. There’s nothing explicitly local in the image, yet I declare it’s here.

The oil paintings “After the harvest,” “Morning at the pond,” and “Spring Run-off” all look like our landscape.

So, I wonder what is in the art of familiar places, and what is in my reaction to it? There’s always the thing I recognize but then also something new—the thing that is more delightful than the familiar face, something seen by the artist.

For me, the surprise is often in the colors, and that’s part of the delight for me in pastels, given the way the color is laid down on the paper. Pastels make a thick, rich drawing and painting all at once.

One oil painting of flowering chamisa also has a wonderful feeling of the folding, sloping terrain in our foothills, giving me the familiar sense of gravity I can get when the land is curving away in many directions at once.

It’s not quite vertigo, but the land seems wild, as if it wants to move and just might do it.

Janet’s show also includes drawings in conte, charcoal, and graphite. Be sure to spend some time with the show during one of your library visits.

Another reflection from the show is about how proper gold frames can be. Only recently have I appreciated how appropriate a gold frame can be for some works. In my youth, which apparently ended only recently, I considered them all ostentatious.

Silly me.

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