I take this way in the country, I always pay a visit to
my art teacher. Hearing the electric bell, he comes to
open the door of the studio; I can hear the baritone voice
I knew as a college student, Im coming. Im
coming. After some minutes of the usual words in
such a meeting, he shows me a still life he has been working
to finish. We talk about shape and form, texture, foreground,
and background. We sit down, sip from bowls of jasmine
tea. Then he asks my opinion about the colors in the painting,
telling me that he avoided using black. Suddenly, I remember
his lessons about colors, and the magical correspondences
of the color black. I still cant forget the beginning
of that lesson: The Impressionists believed that
black did not exist in nature and they excluded it from
their palettes. I also remember that he wrote the
word black on a chalkboard in Latin, Italian,
Spanish, Romanian, and French, and then pronounced them:
niger, nero, negro, negru, noir. After a short silence
in our talk, he says, Black is a useful color but
it can sometimes deaden or destroy color mixes.
Then he adds, In the last decades Ive at-tempted
to follow Monets advice: when you paint, try to
forget what objects you have in front of you.
a familiar landscape
an unknown scent
out for miles, nothing but buttes and mesas, cliffs in
shades of mauve, sienna, sun-burnt orange. So much to
see in this sun-baked state, if only you know where to
look for it. Below the peaks of the Sandia, the green
forests clusterpiñon, spruce and fir, ponderosa
pine. And lots of blue sky, as a friend once
said. The desert has so much room, you can get lost
in it and find yourself all over again. Beyond the
pueblos walls, turkey vultures scrape their shadows
over short grass and snakeweed. Along the roadside, an
old Zuñi woman sits over her blanket of hammered
silver and turquoise jew-elry, her unglazed pottery. She
can see thunderheads a hundred miles away, a rainstorm
that may never lay a drop on her sunken cheeks. The thunderheads
race across the desert, chasing swift rattlesnakes and
soaking the lizards that have become one with the boulders
on which they lie; only after you adjust your sight will
you see a small, lidded eye staring back.
so cool against my palm
this white clay bowl
needed a good wash after lying in the soil forwhat?
A hundred and fifty years? Two hundred and fifty maybe?
Perhaps not so long. I remember, in my boyhood you still
saw the occasional poor working man, a navvy on the road
or a night-watchman he might be, drawing on a small clay
pipe like that. And of course children had them to blow
soap bubbles with. But this one spoke of age.
found it a piece at a time over the space of several days
digging, often until nightfall, that autumn when we had
moved into a new house in a village, where there was a
garden to be made from virgin land. Two or three sections
of long tapering mouthpiece, then finally, like an acorn
cup, the little bowl. Curious to see if the sherds belonged
together, I found they all fitted trimly, and with a few
dabs of Superglue I reunited them.
this some man of old, a man who measured out his tobacco
in pinches, had taken solace after his labours. I even
caught myself thinking it might be nice to take up smoking
again, though I had given up the habit more than thirty
years before, and knew it was not what my body wanted.
But joining him in spirit. A sort of communion.