I LOST A FRIEND yesterday. A painting I did about a decade ago. It had hung in my office in Washington and here it had hung on my kitchen wall. It is a bright painting in vivid, contrasting colors, so it was impossible not to notice every time I came into the kitchen. The painting is essentially a colorized New York Times crossword puzzle, one of those Saturday puzzles where almost every square filled in with letters. The first line across reads, “It takes a village.” The second, “board of trustees. The last two are “unparliamentary” and “store detective.” My plan was to use mostly contrasting colors for each square and the letter inside it, in a certain pattern that I had used in an earlier work that appealed to me. However, about three quarters of the way through the painting, I stepped back to take a look at it and I was struck by the beauty of the remaining white letters, so I decided that the painting was finished.
Over the years, I’ve heard a lot of comments from people who look at it for the first time. Most of them have been along the line of “interesting,” or “intriguing,” or simply, “hmmmm.” I realized the bright colors aren’t most peoples cup of Coke, but it didn’t matter. I liked it.
But now it’s gone. Yesterday morning I unhinged it from the hooks that attached it to the wall and took it downstairs and to the curb where a friend’s car was parked. He opened the trunk and I unceremoniously placed it in that space and closed the trunk lid. I didn’t even bother to say goodbye. It didn’t seem like a big deal, just part of a transaction. My friend had come to town on business and had the spent the night at my place. During his visit he mentioned that he and his wife had talked about buying a painting from me and he mentioned the one they had talked about. He later called her to make sure that the painting on my kitchen wall was indeed the painting he was talking about. He asked me to think of a price and that we’d talk in the morning. The next morning I asked him to make me an offer and the amount he mentioned and it was exactly what I had thought about as the price I would ask from a friend. So it was an easy deal.
I was flattered, of course. In all my years of creating art, I had given away a number of paintings, as presents, to friends, but until yesterday, I had only sold one painting, also to a friend. Well, that’s not exactly true. When I was in grad school and nearly broke, I talked one of my friends into buying a painting so I could afford to buy groceries and pay my rent during the last couple of months of school. I felt bad about that, and still do. First, because he was not a great lover of art and only agreed to buy it to help me out. Second, because I really liked the painting and hated to part with it. Over the years, since then, I visited him both in his home and his office and I never once saw the painting, so I’m assuming he put it under a bed somewhere, or tossed it into his barn or store room. I was always too embarrassed to ask him about it, and maybe buying it back from him. And now he’s dead and I’m sure his family has no idea where that painting is.
I’m not very good at selling anything, but I’m particularly bad about selling my art. I always find it difficult to believe that anyone else would like what I create, even if I do. For years I refused to call myself an artist, believing it was presumptuous of me to claim that designation for myself. But in recent years I’ve grown more confident in my artistic endeavors and the idea of selling a piece of my artwork is no longer that alien.
So, I was happy to sell that piece to my good friends because I know they appreciate what I create, and because they are very, very special friends. They have several other of my creations hanging in their home and they have displayed them prominently. It’s in a good home.
Still, every time I look at the empty space on my kitchen wall, I feel a small pang of angst and sadness. It’s like when I have visitors who stay for more than a day or two and I become accustomed to their presence and then suddenly they’re gone. There’s a certain emptiness to the place that overwhelms it and it takes its own sweet time to vacate the premises.
I know I’ll get over it. I’ll find something else to replace that empty space on my wall and things will eventually return to normal. Who knows, it just might be the new piece I started painting, just today, or the next one after that. Something will, for blank walls and I simply do not get along.