Thursday, February 3, 2011

Theatre of the Absurd: "Sleepless at Mervyn's"

Though grandly named, Mervyn's Manor is a rustic cabin, built of salvaged lumber from a chicken barn, at a seaside resort in the Gulf Islands. ( My family and I have spent many vacations there, and over the years have coincided with various avian residents. One year there was a family of young ducks who did the rounds every day begging for snacks, and were so tame that the children cuddled them on their laps. Another time the owner of the resort had three goslings and had to teach them how to fly. Each day we watched his proteges trotting after him, flapping their "arms" in imitation, until the memorable day when they built up enough momentum to take off and soar on their wobbly wings. And then there was the stray peahen, a wonderfully exotic sight up in the trees, but decidedly less lovable at 5 am, when she greeted each day with ear-piercing shrieks.

So there were plenty of precedents for the appearance of the rooster that chose the old iron bed on Mervyn's back porch as his sleeping place. I was not there that year, but as soon as I saw the snapshot of him I scrounged a copy to use for a painting. I was charmed by the incongruity of the elements in the picture: a battered rooster, lacking a few tail feathers, a rusty bedstead, and a mid-20th century fridge.

I tried various croppings and formats for the composition, and started painting on a tall skinny canvas, 60 x 24 inches. This turned out to have far too much negative space, so I  trimmed it down and restretched it to 48 x 24, which worked better, though the perspective lines of the cabin were still a nightmare. 

The photo was taken with a flash, late in the evening. This would not normally be a good source of information for a painting, since the flash exaggerates contrasts and creates black areas, but in this case the flash was an asset, since it explained the dopey but startled look on the bird's face.

I showed the painting at a studio tour, and a woman wanted to buy it, which presented me with a dilemma. The painting was already committed to a juried show a few weeks later, and I didn't know how to manage this "double booking." My hesitation cost me the sale, a painful lesson in my fledgling art career. I learned that if someone has cheque book in hand I should close the sale then and there, or the cheque may never get written. I also learned not to offer anything for sale until I was quite sure I was ready to part with it.

The painting did sell later, at a fund-raising auction. I never discovered who bought it, and that's a little sad. As with puppies and kittens, I want to know that my creations have gone to good homes. I wonder about the buyer of "Sleepless at Mervyn's." Who are you, and what appealed to you about this absurd little scene? If you happen to read this I'd love to hear from you. I hope my painting has a good spot in your home, and that it still raises a smile when you walk by.

Next time:  Monsters are out there: "The Tree that Almost Brained Me":

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