Tuesday, March 3, 2009

These Deep City Lights

When you first start drawing or painting seriously, I find it interesting that we always seem to gravitate to small paper or small canvas. 12"x18"still seems a little big, you might think, but its about as small as you can get away with. Its easy to throw your body over, too, if its a terrible painting. It doesn't attract the same attention as it would have if you walked a 4'x4' canvas across campus. Relatively, its a small amount of canvas, but when you first start in on painting, it seems like far too much space to cover with a paintbrush. Its the intimidation of blank space.

Once you start painting, you realize that you need more space. So you graduate, slowly but surely, to larger canvases. Suddenly, you're not sure if that 4'x4' is really going to be space enough to fit everything in... but it might be just the right size. Surely you're able to incorporate what you've learned in smaller paintings, add more and more detail and attention, and loose yourself in what is, in all relativity, a small space. You learn this too, and that sometimes your largest brushes are too small, or your smallest brushes are too big. There is so much artistic and muscle memory that goes into filling all that space, so much attention to each square inch, that you are as intimately acquainted with each part as you might be of a smaller painting. Maybe even more so, actually.

What I notice in these situations is that as I add more, the space gets smaller and more filled. Each brush stroke is a memory, a mark made to indicate the impression of a moment past. Soon, what was once a sprawling expanse of gessoed canvas is now crowded in, shrunken by our involvement. So too, I noticed, is Boston.

Cities seem to have this habit of shrinking with use. The transformation from impenetrable walls of cinder block and concrete to a model you can hold in your hand is often imperceptible. It happens day after day, walking along the same streets, visiting new places, and following the well tread paths made by others in their day to day. Soon, streets begin to connect to each other. What was once a destination becomes a location-- perhaps a small distinction, but also the crux of this experience.

Today, a walk to the ice skating rink took me through a variety of locations I hadn't visited since I first moved here: a building where I got lost on a rambling walk through my neighborhood, a train station I used en route to my interview, and the end destination of a long walk where I got lost with a friend. It all terminated, interestingly enough, at my favorite restaurant in the North End. In that moment, I watched Boston shiver, shake, and then shrink. The rest of the night, I was pleased as punch, walking through the North End looking in windows, admiring apartments.

On the walk back to ice skating rink, I noticed an advertisement for living in the North End-- it said "Where Progressive Meets Quaint", with an image of a brick building from which you can see the Boston skyline. To me, that happy coincidence summed up my entire experience.

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