Sunday, January 29, 2017

The Emotional Algebra of Images: Three Pictures > 30,000 Words

I can sum up the emotional circumference of the past week with three photographs. They are not completely comprehensive, as they do not address the stumbles and triumphs of the workplace, the impact of a friend's sad revelation, or the simple joy of reuniting with him and your other friends on a Saturday night. These three pictures circumscribe the highs and lows encountered in the course of navigating 1/52nd of a year.

The most whimsical is the oil painting of Batman that now hangs on the accent wall of the downstairs bathroom, colloquially known as 'The Batcan'. A friend tipped me to a Paint Night at a St. Albert bistro using my favourite superhero as its subject, and although it would mean going by myself, I screwed my courage to the sticking place and bought a ticket.

The stencil did most of the heavy lifting, but over the course of three hours, I slowly brushed black, white and indigo oils into the cloudscape that makes up the bulk of the picture, adding the other elements as directed by the instructor, Tyler. I bolshed up one of the bats something fierce, and it took me four separate attempts to get the reflection in the water to where I wanted it.

In the end, white paint tidied up my mangled chiropteran a bit, while black paint provided me the ability to make multiple attempts at the reflection. In the end, I am left with a painting I don't mind looking at, and which improves in quality the further I stand back from it. The picture of Gotham's Dark Knight reminds me what I can accomplish if I overcome my own inertia, set aside my social anxiety and venture out of my comfort zone a little bit.

The saddest image of the week are these two prints I bought in an unconventional fashion; the artist brought them to my door.

It was a summer day, perhaps five years ago; Audrey called me to the front door and I found a smiling young man waiting there, probably indigenous, wearing a backpack and carrying some art prints in a folder under his arm. He introduced himself and said as an artist, he was taking it upon himself to get his work out there by taking it the streets in the most literal sense possible, and was selling them door to door.

I was intrigued, and asked what the response had been like to this approach. He said that he was getting lots of good wishes, and just enough sales that he wasn't willing to quit just yet.

The young man opened his folder and showed me some of his prints, telling the inspiration for each title and the significance behind the aboriginal art style he was using. Now, I'm no artist or art critic, but I have been reading comic strips and comic books since I was 5 years old, and I have come to appreciate the fluidity and strength of a well done line, and these prints had those qualities in spades. There was a grace and elegance, a naturality that exuded from the art board he had drawn and painted them on.

We talked a bit about how he had made them, a combination of artist's pens and acrylic paint on artboard, and I commented on both the smoothness of this line and the precision of the circles. I don't remember how much he was selling them for, but it was peanuts less than $20 a piece for certain. Knowing how much Audrey enjoyed that style of art, I told him I was happy to buy two, on the condition he signed them, as he had not, up to that point. Apparently there are those who prefer the prints without the signature, and he was reluctant to compromise the possibility of a sale, but only too happy to sign mine.

He shrugged off his backpack, pulled one of his technical pens from the pocket and carefully printed his name at the bottom of each piece: Sterling Gauthier.

My memory is primarily visual, and I see those prints every morning as I get dressed, and that is the reason I recognized his name when the morning radio reported his death after collapsing on a bus last week.

Sterling was well known as both an artist and a stand-up fellow amongst those who work with Edmonton's homeless. Turns out he wasn't as young as I had supposed; passing as he did at 36 means he was probably 30 when I met him, but his positivity and exuberance gave him the mien of a younger man, and I remembered thinking of him as someone who might be in college.

I gather he struggled with drinking, and I don't know if he was living rough at that time or not, but he came across as articulate, passionate, determined and friendly, qualities the world needs more of now than ever, but he is gone.

The news report of his passing left me gutted, and I appreciate the two prints, "Free Spirit" and "Sky's the Limit", more than ever now. They are a reminder to appreciate the strangers that life throws into your path; you don't know their full story, and you may never get another chance to hear it.

The most uplifting picture for the week that was is that one of Glory at the Western Canada Winter Championships last week.

I still can't claim to understand the complex methods of progression in competitive Irish Dance, which make the initiation rites of the Shaolin 36 Chambers look like a weekend symposium. I do know you can't progress without taking first place in what is called a Trophy Dance, and you need to win at some lower levels just be allowed to compete there in the first place.

More importantly, I know Glory works harder at this than anything in her life to this point. I know she is at the studio 4 nights a week, (2 hours on Wednesdays), and has to log 2 hours of exercise, practice, or intense stretching at home on the weekend in order to be permitted to attend the execution classes run by some of the more experienced dancers.

I know she was limping when I picked her up from practice two weeks ago, and the thought of an injury preventing her from competing in a feis only  days away brought her nearly to tears. I know she has had several visits to a sports doctor and chiropractor since then, and that taking a couple of prescribed nights off to recover caused her pain in a way that no injury ever could.

I know one of the worst qualities she gets from her old man is an matchless ability to worry, and I know she didn't sleep well the night before her trophy dance, but she pushed through it and got first place for the first time ever.

She needs one more first-place win, in a different dance, in order to progress to the next level, but I know she's already done enough to make me as proud of her as I have ever been.

And best of all, I know she knows it.

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