"There is no measuring with time, no year matters, and ten years are nothing. Being an artist means, not reckoning and counting, but ripening like the tree which does not force its sap...patience is everything."
--Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet
Last week, I finished this still life. It is a painting of my Grandmommy's teapot, and it has a lot of significance for me. It's also not the first time I have painted this teapot. Ten years ago, without any real training, I gave it a shot. I think it's interesting to look back and see how my painting style has changed.
I was living with Grandmommy when I finished my first teapot painting in 2005. I remember carrying it down to the living room and showing it proudly to her. She seemed pleased, and she praised my efforts, but then she reminded me firmly that she needed to have her butter dish back immediately. In fact, she had been wondering where it was all week. We butted heads; I couldn't understand why she couldn't live without her butter dish for the sake of Art. But she was more stubborn than me, and she always won these types of arguments. She was an old lady, living in the house she had lived in for over fifty years. Of course she liked things to be just so.
My husband and I had moved into Grandmommy's house in Hampton, New Jersey, when I was 24 years old. We had been married for over a year, living a nomadic life in various forests across the country, with not much more than a tent and some camping gear. But, when Papa (my grandfather) died, Grandmommy could no longer live alone. It seemed natural for Ian and me to live with her, since we had no real home or job tying us down. We took care of her, making her meals and taking her to doctor appointments. During the day, Ian worked on his novel and I worked on my paintings. Every night, I would make a pot of green tea in Grandmommy's teapot, and we all would sit in the living room watching "Murder She Wrote," or something similar, drinking tea, and eating cookies. It was very cozy.
As an artist, I was very lucky to have that time to grow and learn. With few responsibilities, I could really dive into my creativity. "I have been joyfully painting," I recounted in my diary. But it wasn't always easy living with Grandmommy. Another diary entry says: "I am very selfish. I want people (Grandmommy) to respect my time to do art. I know it is not a "real" job but I want to treat it like a real job...I feel so mad, and I can't talk about it, because my feelings are selfish and unjustified, and I don't want to make Grandmommy upset."
I didn't realize that the real treasure of my experience was the quality time I was spending with Grandmommy, time that could never come again. The painting was just a happy by-product. I often feel the awful pain of remorse, wishing I could go back in time and be with her again, and this time, be more loving and patient. Now that I am older, with kids of my own, I feel I could do a much better job of taking care of her. But I think Grandmommy understood that. She knew I loved her. And she loved me with an infinite depth of love and forgiveness, completely accepting my 24 year old self, with all my immaturity and imperfections.
And so, now I am ten years older. Perhaps I am wiser and more skilled as an artist, but... I miss Grandmommy! My paintings are my love songs to her; the teapots, cream pitchers, and mustard pots are hymns of gratitude for all of our good times together.
I love you, Grandmommy!