Thursday, March 12, 2009

I want to eat it

When I was a kid we had a family friend named Paul Rand who lived and worked in his studio just down the road from us. Paul was a painter as well as a very famous graphic designer. He created the logos we all see every day; Westinghouse, UPS, Ikea, Adobe, Volkswagen, ABC and IBM among them. When asked where his ideas came from his stock reply was “Any artist who gives you an answer that question is lying. Because I guarantee you, we don't know.” 
I knew what he meant. In fact, I was relieved to hear him say it because like all artists, I get asked that question a lot. And I’ve never been able to verbalize where my design ideas and inspiration come from.  Then in 1989 my mother and I went to Europe together, along with her friend, Caryl and Caryl's daughter, Laurie. Laurie is a very successful graphic designer and artist. The fourth day of the trip we arrived in Bruges, Belgium, a tiny village, something out of a fairy tale, cobbled and bricked, canals and cottages, ruddy faced smiling villagers with lovely accents, horse-drawn wagons clip-clopping through the streets. Canopied beds in our rooms, boiled eggs and cheese for breakfast, chocolate to die for and waffles which defy description. 
Late that night Laurie and I decided to take a walk, get to know each other. We sauntered along narrow, empty streets of stone, talking about life, art, travel, relationships. We strolled past darkened lace shops, bookstores, bakeries, cheese shops - and after a passing through the town square turned the corner and stopped in front of a textile shop. There in the window, draped over a lone antique chair, spotlighted by a single column of warm yellow light, was the most luscious piece of hand-woven fabric I have ever seen in my life. Laurie and I both let out audible gasps and stopped dead in our tracks. We stood together staring at it for a few moments in complete silence. After what seemed like minutes, Laurie said under her breath "I want to eat it." I turned and watched her taking it in. Her gaze never left the window, and after several long seconds she became aware of my puzzlement and finally smiled and said with a quiet reverence, "When I see something that beautiful I want to experience it completely - it's like I want to have it inside of me." I think of that night often, when I see something inspiring and miraculous and want somehow to record it, make it mine. Sometimes when I am some place I've never been before or I’m looking at amazing art or something beautiful in nature that inspires me, I feel all of my senses tingling, being overfed and stimulated, trying to absorb it, memorize everything I see. I think of it when I am fully enjoying something or someone with that joy - that intense wild thing we feel when we flirt or are infatuated. It's the way we feel when we're newly in love, we just can't get enough of life, that first blush that makes us want to swallow every minute and keep it forever. The feeling is so rich and thrilling, I want to be able to keep it and take it home in a box, to open up and revisit it later, keep it forever. I think this is something that artists do in a very vital way, ingest life’s most vibrant experiences, sights and sounds. It is my belief that they are absorbed, reshaped, and reborn in our art. I don’t think we’re even aware of the process. We can't be. We simply eat them, enjoy them in that most alive, intimate, physical sense that Laurie was describing. And in turn they become a part of us, settling in our heart, our soul, germinating with their own time and rhythm and are born into color and shape and texture in our art. Paul died in 1996. He was an ornery fellow and would probably argue this with me, but I believe I do know where my ideas come from. Although, I still can’t put it into a one-sentence answer when asked. When any experience is new, beautiful and moving and therefore feels more real, more dimensional than the rest of life I don't want to let it pass into the flatness of my memory. I want to savor it, I want to bury my face in its texture and color and breathe it, taste it, and yes, eat it. And later if I’m lucky, I’ll see a glimmer of it born into something I create. I don’t always recognize it by name, but it’s there, that I am sure of.


Colleen MacDonald said...

I love this post! If I were a dog, I'd roll in it!

fran imagines said...
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fran imagines said...

You put into a cohesive format what I've also felt but could never articulate myself. I've had people wonder why I can stop dead to watch a sunset. One person said "you've seen a sunset before". But each sunset is unique to the total of an experience...who I'm with, what the conversation is, where I'm at in that moment. All of life is that way and inspiration is born of what we've seen, felt or said and who we've been with or if we're alone. Thanks Pam.