Recently we bought a painting. We were in San Diego and furnishing the new condo. In my mind was something large, a Morris Louis Abstract Expressionism or an Andy Warhol with those massive pink flowers. But something to fill the wall and set off the space.
It had all begun with Howard’s red chair. We had nothing in the room but a red chair, a colour I would not usually choose as I go for those boring neutrals, beiges, warm ochres, whatever my elder daughter finds bland and uninteresting.
But a reclining leather red chair spoke to him and so we bought it on the spot. With a nondescript non-colour couch, I also figured a rug with slashes of red, gold, green, brown might work a little magic in the room. And then I considered that a painting might bring it all together.
As we meandered on the grass of the Festival Arts at UCSD I caught a glimpse of a painting. It was certainly large, 4 x 5 feet at least and it blasted red. I would never tell anyone to purchase paintings to match décor, but hell, we needed something red to work with that chair and brighten up the rest of the room. Something drew me towards that canvas that sunny green day.
There was evidence of a variety of brushstrokes: what looked like a red bag in flight, a group of doughnuts or maybe they were bagels, the top of a soaring perfume bottle also in flight and two strange doors caught in this frenetic piece. With a background in art history, I figured that if I was responding to this painting, it must have multiple levels of communication and actually communicate something of import. Not a starving artist deal at all. Plus, I learned that the title was “ Metropolis” and that certainly sparked my attention- and imagination.
We spoke to the artist from San Francisco about the price, but kept on moving, just wandering through the show. Her price was way more than I had expected to spend. But I was drawn back to the work, and offered the artist half- which I knew she would refuse and felt I was, in deed, insulting her. Her price was in truth, not unreasonable. We left the show but gave Anna our name.
Later that day as I was perusing her website, I noticed several charming prints that might do so I lay down for a nap and contemplated how the three simple attractive designs might look on our wall. I heard the phone ring and Anna revealed that the piece had not sold so perhaps we might like to see it on our wall. Again, we discussed price: we, moving up slightly and she ( I could imagine her lips downturned) down. All right, we thought, we’ll agree to JUST see it in our space. Of course, like a hand and a glove, it fit and we were hooked.
Later asking for her influences, I was not surprised to discover that both Matisse’s cut-outs and Paul Klee’s childlike drawing figured prominently in her work: both artists whom I adore for their simplicity, flatness and childlike innocence . Twice in my life I have gone to Vence outside of Nice in France to view Matisse’s Chapel where his famous cutouts were housed.
(Funny story- years ago when I wanted to introduce my young children to my favourite artists, we visited every church, museum and gallery in Europe and so, we headed towards Vence where we deposited coins in a machine for parking outside the chapel and discovered, that really, it was not a parking meter, but a dispenser of condoms. Oh those French!).
I could not put a reason on why Anna Choi’s painting called to me, but it did. It was the same experience in Alice Springs, Australia, when an even larger work by an Aboriginal artist’s almost abstract painting also whispered to me and made me weep. It combined the push-pull of Hans Hoffman with the aboriginal signs of the mandala, the artist’s son’s barefoot feet, hedgehogs and woven bags that popped and whirled on multiple levels of meaning, colour, form, reality, illusion: sacred and secular melding.
As interesting as the painting were the responses of people to it. Although I could care less, reactions reveal something of the viewers. Our new neighbor loved it as I thought it might as she seems to be intuitive and open. Our real estate agent who sold us the condo also approved and offered in exchange her own house’s artwork that is whimsical and “quirky”, as she calls it. My daughter-in-law pondered, not totally enamoured, what style it was painted in. Actually, a good question but I cannot pinpoint the style. Certainly not pure abstract expressionism or Impressionism. Maybe a bit like Jim Dine and Claus Oldenberg with elements of Matisse , Gorky, Klee, Debenkorn… I’m an art history person but I can’t give it a label. Truly, I hate labels anyway.
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As I edit this piece written many months ago, I feel weepy. My youngest daughter has just had a little girl and so I think about motherhood: was I a good enough mother myself; what did I do as a mother…our trips to Europe with our children, the laughter, the French fries, the coughs, the gites where we stayed, times spent together.
I feel ancient.
I hope that some of the things I have loved such as the travel and especially the worlds and stories enclosed in the paintings will survive me and like the newest painting in San Diego one day recall memories.