Saturday, June 19, 2010

The Shaggy Poet

I’ve been digging around in boxes again. Yeah, boxes, those things that have become an icon of my existence the past four months.

Papers are starting to pile up as I continue to sort, which makes me think about getting a box-sized filing cabinet, something with folders to organize the papers. But other than papers, every now and then I pull out from a neglected box some curio or precious diamond that I had temporarily forgotten. That happened today when I uncovered a near antique wrapped in packing fluff at the bottom of one more box.

Once upon a time I loved art class, and not being a very good student otherwise, gave it my best in high school. Mrs Collier was a good art teacher, a memorable woman, and in retrospect someone I imagine was saved from a bohemian, or beatnik lifestyle by an unplanned marriage. I always felt she was more open-minded than her school colleagues. She made her classes enjoyable, relaxed and informative.

One month we were practicing drawing with pen and ink. I was amazed at the variety of textures possible. Trees were a favorite subject. But in an opposite direction, haiku-like drawings, spare lines against white also caught my fancy. Mrs Collier, I recall, never brought up Japanese sumi-e, or the emptiness of Japan’s haiku style.

So, the near antique-curio I uncovered earlier is the pen and ink drawing above (badly discolored). It was my homework project for the lessons and practice of using pen and ink. The model for the shaggy Napoleonic “poet” was a ceramic statue on the mantel in my boyhood home. In my greenness it never occurred to me to wonder who or what the statue stood for. I did no more than sit in front of the mantel and, in my own way, draw the statue. Mrs Collier praised my work, and awarded me one of my few A’s.

Years later, I discovered two particular arts of Japan, sumi-e and haiku, where empty space plays a big part. I tried my hand at sumi-e, taking lessons for a while, but never managed to get control of it.

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Oak Hill, Florida, United States
A longtime expat relearning the footwork of life in America