Monday, September 26, 2011

Picked RAW Peeled: University Heights Arts Open

by Angela Babb Timmons

I had been staring at a blank page for weeks, cursing the paper and typewriter keys – where are the words, where are the words, I kept asking. The infinite white space scared me. I had convinced myself that I needed a concrete direction or at least the smallest grain of a story before I could allow myself to type a single word. I was so afraid of the empty page that I actually stopped writing and decided I would just wait for the muse to find me.

Several days passed and I soon realized the muse never comes knocking; she doesn’t even tap lightly. The muse prefers to be courted, flirted with, seduced. She’s a prissy little thing and she was not interested in the likes of me.

It was Sunday and the University Heights Arts Open was happening. I decided if I couldn’t make art, I would at least go out and observe it. As I walked out the front door, I paused for a moment and asked the muse for the smallest of favors – please teach me something.

I made my way to the open studios of the Athenaeum Music and Arts Library where I watched students fast at work with paint and brush in hand. In the front of the room a female model sat in stillness on a raised platform as the artists experimented with color, shade and dimension to bring her visage to life on canvas. Some of the painters were delicate with the brush while others seemed to stroke with force and emotion. No one seemed to work in the same way; they all had their own technique and rhythm. I scribbled some words in my journal – it’s not the technique, it’s the outcome – and I wondered if that was the lesson.

Then I was off to Swedenborg Hall where musicians and dancers graced the stage with colorful and heartfelt numbers. Behind the scenes there was a swell of activity. In a back room a musician tuned his guitar while a flamenco dancer fluffed her dress and practiced her steps. In the far corner another dancer slathered on lipstick, tucked a flower behind her ear and snapped her fingers in time to the music. I made a note in my journal – art isn’t just the performance, but all the moments leading up to it. Perhaps that was the lesson.

As I pondered that notion I strolled upstairs to the Swedenborgian Church and viewed Fernando Vossa’s edgy 3-dimensional paintings of captivating celestial spirals surrounding human form. I strapped on silly 3D glasses and watched the images pop and flutter with movement at every angle. There were three of us standing there, all of us strangers, and we stared at the paintings together as we attempted to interpret the meaning. We exchanged ideas, analyzed small nuances of shape and color and stood quietly in observation. And then, after a long silence, one of the strangers uttered something profound. “Art is like a puzzle of clues for the soul to unravel,” she said. The words struck me and I wondered for a moment if that was the lesson.

I jotted down notes in my journal like an eager student as I walked toward the last stop on the tour. I reached the front gate of the Mundo Gallery and was invited to explore the enchanted tree house studio of artist Mario Torero. A steep climb up crooked and unstable steps led to the secret hideaway tucked among the silky leaves of a towering aspen tree. It was in this inspired setting, overlooking a serene soaking pool, where I took a quiet moment and looked out at the natural surroundings. I took in a breath of fresh air, looked to the sky, to the trees, and at the tranquil water below and said to the muse, “Please teach me something.”

I started to head for the stairs to return to the gallery and something magical happened. A light breeze came out of nowhere and the leaves of the aspen tree seemed to whisper, “Pick up the brush.” I looked toward a handful of paint brushes resting in a cup on a weathered table and said to the muse, “But I’m a writer.”

I ignored the faint murmurs and continued for the stairs but the muse didn’t relent. “Pick up the brush,” the aspen tree whispered as its leaves tickled in the wind.

My eyes darted to a painter’s palette in the corner of the studio. I looked to the aspen tree and pleaded with the muse, “I’m a writer. Teach me something.” I continued down the stairs until a fierce wind blew and the leaves crinkled in the breeze and said with clarity, “Pick up the brush.”

I stopped on the stairs and looked back toward the tree house. I noticed a long scroll of white canvas stretched across the length of the studio wall. The canvas was empty, not a spot of paint. Resting in the opposite corner was a vibrant mural filled with images, life and color. And then it hit me. The finished mural started off as a blank canvas just as all pieces of art start from nothing – a crisp sheet of white paper, an empty stage, a lump of wet clay. It wasn’t the blank page that was stopping me; it was the lack of courage to pick up the brush. I felt a surge in my chest, a tug in my throat. I had asked the muse to teach me and she finally showed up.

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