Last summer, I taught some private painting lessons for young adults. One of the skills I demonstrated was impasto, which is a technique that uses larger amounts of paint to create texture with its thickness. Van Gogh often used this technique.
These are a some acrylic experiment paintings I used to show examples of impasto to my students:
Geryon, inspired by Anne Carson’s story Autobiography of Red. Created with palette knife and brush.
Noontide. Memory landscape finger-painting.
Bunny Fantasia, created using a palette knife and brush.
This landscape was painted from memory with acrylic paint. My professor had challenged us to abstain from using paintbrushes, so I used my fingers and a palette knife.
The first time I dropped in on a wave, really dropped in, I finally knew what it felt like to be in my rightful place in the world. The timing, paddling, pop-up, and steering had culminated into that ever-desired perfect glide. For a few seconds, I spread royal wings and flew. For a few seconds, the sky rolled back to show how it was made of something as beautiful as an abalone shell.
The painting is titled “Theology,” I said. One hundred eyes passed over the piece, consuming its wild blue spilling and plunging. Now they awaited my defense and explanation.
The correlation is simple, this idea of Sublimity in the character of God; One experienced as powerful, infinite, mighty, and ultimate. Yet when we experience this, we are somehow allowed to live, often leaving full of something like love or respect. The same experience is manifest when I am in the ocean, delighting in its power without it killing me–hence the “theology” of the crashing wave.
It is an important moment in life when you realize that the calmest part of the ocean is the water directly beneath the wave. It is like finally realizing that to dance in the arms of another person, you have to stop struggling to lead your way. It is a moment of enlightenment in which you realize to keep from drowning, you must go underwater. No matter how the white water roars, if you duck below the plummets of the break, there you will find peace. Finally, you must learn to listen to the sea, for it will tell you when it’s safe to return to breathing again.
Noah arrived by my side and with his classic bemused half-grin and complimentary fist-pound. Kick-ass were his first words. Others had offered similar congratulations. But he followed to say something more striking in clarity. Good job capturing the calm water right under the wave. A lot of people forget that part, he said. I looked back at the painting. The effect had been unintentional, but now that he pointed it out, I saw it. And I realized it was something I had known about all along.
I went to Balboa Beach one time for a bonfire with some friends. I always felt so lonely and loved at the same time when I was in front of a bonfire. But when I stepped away to feel the cold lick of the sea, I could sense the way there was no fire left in me. I was more like the crescent ghost moon that punctured the inkiness of the night, reflecting in indigo silver over the waves that crashed in such a quietly chilling, chanting way. At that moment, I was sure that if I was alone I could just walk into them and never come back again, and I was only disturbed to realize I believed this was a moment of beauty.
Jasper certainly came unannounced, but we were no where near the ocean. We went out on our first date to a fish taco joint in the city. I should have just been honest and told him that lately I had been feeling sleepy and was hoping he would wake me up, so he could have said No up front. Instead, I told him things I never should have said, like how I would take the ability to breathe underwater if he chose to have wings, so I could take him through the sea as long as he would fly me through the sky. Like how I told him the things that I had learned, namely how the Fourth of July was the most lonely holiday, how nice it would be to cuddle in a blanket on the beach with a tin of brownies. I eventually realized Jasper didn’t understand these things, the same way he did not understand the composition of the saltwater that would run out of my eyes from time to time.
I finally realized there was a practical joke going on that wasn’t funny. The ones I had wanted to call beloved were ubiquitously afraid of the ocean. Those that I knew that were not afraid had already fallen in love with sirens; one siren was Pride, another was Marijuana, the other was my roommate Robyn.
Never try to be a land mammal when you think you’re tired of feeling like just another fish in the sea. The body and spirit do not exist without each other, Aristotle mentioned. Neither does the dolphin without the wild ocean.
I put on my torn painter’s jeans again. Heaps of paint were squeezed out from a drawer-full of Liquitex tubes. Photographs on a laptop screen guided the way I mixed the paint with knives on my thrift store plate palettes. Three shades of blue, phthalo green, alizarin crimson, burnt umber, cadmium yellow & oxide, and massive amounts of titanium white.