Kind Gestures by S. Webster

Chapter 9

Lydia – 10:30 am

Lydia pours another mug of coffee and steps into the studio. It is an art and craft style bungalow. Stone steps up to an open covered porch with the front door centered and opening into a dining area on the left and living room to the right with a stone fireplace centered on the outside wall. She has turned this whole area into a studio, kept the bedroom in the back as her own and turned the one upstairs into an office. The house is within walking distance of town.

Once the divorce was final Lydia came more often to this vacation home in Oliver. And not long after it became her permanent residence. Jack couldn’t stand to be away from the city and she was finding it harder to do her art work there in such a bustling environment. So they ended up having a “nice” divorce. For his part Jack loved Lydia and was not keen to let her go. But he could see no way to prevent the inevitable and cared enough to accept graciously that it was over. Give her the divorce she wanted and hope they could still be friends.

Lydia had finally figured it out that they were just too much alike to keep the marriage interesting; an okay condition after forty years together but hardly desirable in the first fifteen. They had no children so there wasn’t a need to keep the “family” together. Besides one wanting to live away from the city and the other wanting to stay in it, there were few other differences between them. Lydia knew that both she and Jack put their work ahead of the marriage and each other. She still liked him and wouldn’t be surprised if they met on a street twenty years from now and be be able to pick up where they left off. Maybe even remarry if it felt right when they wanted or needed the comforts of familiarity. It could happen if neither of them were involved with someone else. And given their propensity for taking care of their own interests first, it was unlikely anyone else would become an important part of their lives. She thought getting back together was a possibility but one she spent little time thinking about.

All Lydia wanted now was to concentrate on her artwork, away from the city and a busy life she gladly gave up. So by remaining a part time consultant to the graphic design business she left behind and her gallery sales, Lydia was financially solid for the life-changing move of coming here.

She is an attractive woman, long and lean and leggy and a bit exotic with her olive skin and long dark hair. Her paint spattered jeans and loose gauzy tops in bright Indian colors and patterns are the only clothes she was seen in around town. There is nothing about her that looks anything but foreign to the people of Oliver. And this gives her a freedom she had never experienced. The women here see her as too different from them to find any common ground. And the men just know she lives alone and suspect it is probably her fault. And she’s an artist. An artist who doesn’t paint the town’s children and dogs, doesn’t paint flowers and the mountain views. She paints something else that they don’t understand – nothing they’d put in their homes, that’s for sure. Lydia would never fit in with the social scene of Oliver and she appreciates the distance this notion affords her in avoiding unwanted friendships. It is the perfect place for her to be alone to do her work.

Her paintings are large and barely fit into her Suburban for delivery to the galleries in Atlanta. The canvas she pulled out yesterday is four feet square and three inches deep.  Sitting on the easel it is primed and ready for Lydia to begin this Tuesday morning. She has given herself the rest of the week to work on this one painting and then will think about any changes she needs to make. The heat and humidity of August have slowed her pace and it may take even longer to finish.

Will it be male or female? Are they standing, leaning, or sitting? And the most important – what are they feeling? She considers the possibilities while pacing in front of the blank canvas and flipping through her sketches. It will be a male figure. And she is not sure what he is feeling right now – just get him in there quickly and see.

All her paintings start this way – a loosely marked-in form filling the canvas. The space around that figure will be an atmosphere of thick colored marks that reflect the body’s mood. Her palette of acrylics is mixed based on this mood or feeling that the subject projects.  Once the form is placed on the canvas she will use soft pale colors to fill the space around it in broad thick strokes. But first she needs to load her brush with a thin dark umber wash to draw his outline ly. And there he is; standing so close that more than half his legs are below the edge of the canvas. At arm’s length she crosses his in front. Strange, but this arrangement of his arms seems to stop him from getting closer. She tilts his head ever so slightly. And now he appears to be watching her. It is a gesture that expresses interest, curiosity. Is he questioning her? Is this painting now about what Lydia is feeling? The give and take of artist and subject begins.

If she hadn’t sketched his form this way but instead had him in profile, looking away, she could have stayed with her original thought of painting loneliness. But now the figure has changed that. Is she expected to translate her own feelings in response? And what is she feeling? It isn’t loneliness, that’s for sure. Lydia thinks about this as she is drawn further into her process and begins changing the colors on her palette.

Again and again she mixes her colors and loads the brush. The first layers drag from top to bottom and build from there. The figure stands and waits.  This one watches. She is charging the air around the figure to the point of entrapment. The recessed flat figure has no way to move now. She cannot change it and the only escape is to bury him and carve out a new form. But Lydia never does that to her figures. She believes they each have something to say, some reason they appear on her canvas.

In contrast to the background their shapes are filled in with a thin watery paint that models the form in light and shadow. The thin washes of umber are there only to give form; just enough to have him not be empty. Lydia always struggles with keeping the forms simple and barely formed.  She continually wipes away marks that give too much information and identity to the figure. The figures on the canvas are there only to hold or express a feeling – messengers who tell her something. By putting down and wiping away she comes to know them – know them intimately. It is like a dance as the figure comes closer and clearer and then fades back into anonymity. She does the same by leaning in and stepping back.

Her figures become vessels holding the things that matter to them or to her. Once Lydia knows what feeling or emotion her painting is expressing, the third and last painting layer takes place within an isolated space on the figure. She believes that women express her feelings through thoughts and reasoning, whereas a man’s feelings are more visceral, and another space on the canvas must be preserved for expressing that feeling. If the figure form is female the shape will be in part or completely within the figures head. Male, and this detail will be somewhere on the trunk of the body.

She stops modeling his shape at an eight by six inch rectangle she has marked out near the center of his chest, above his folded arms. This figure will appear to be cradling the feeling in an image that will be carefully drafted to the point of realism and framed by his body. Lydia does not know the feeling she has to fill this space, but it will come. It always does. She stops for now and cleans her brushes. It is time to walk into town and meet Sue for lunch.