Assignment for OWP: Artist's Statement

Today we went to the art museum on the Willamette University campus. Our assignment was to read an "Artist's Statement" on a plaque on the wall, then find a painting and write a fictional variation by a different artist. Here's mine. I should say that I not only made up much of the biographical information about the painter, but also shifted the date of the painting itself from 1949 back to 1944.

Artist’s Statement
Based on “Driftage” by William Givler

Driftage - Share on Ovi

Five years into my position as the dean of the Museum Art School in Portland, I suppose I was getting something of an itch. I’d been teaching there since ’31, so, after 13 years, academia had not only lost some of its luster, but it had begun to rub some of the sheen off of my love for art itself. This bled into my personal life, or perhaps my failing marriage soured my attitude towards work, but by the summer of ’44 I needed a break. Plus, the war was going on. It seemed like the world was going to hell on every level.

A friend let me borrow his beach house that summer, and I set up my easel, prepared my paints, then found myself taking long walks on the beach by day and having one scotch more than I should each evening. I’d listen to swing music and think about how those happy sounds reached the ears of former students of mine stationed in England or Hawaii, or in the bellies of steel leviathans swimming through the Pacific toward Japanese artillery nests. The happier the song, the more bitter the static sounded, like the hissing and popping of great distance, and the whispers of the hollow nature of words about love.

One day I started to paint a pleasant sunset, and I could hear the tinny voices and forced rhymes of love songs in every crashing wave in the painting. Out of frustration, I splattered dark brown-gray paint over the sun, then swirled the thick spots into a giant piece of driftwood on the beach. The soft pink clouds became bloodstained harbingers of a coming storm. I added my wife in the foreground, her back to me, hair whipping in the wind. Exceeding the impressionism of the rest of the painting, her hand looks particularly unfinished. That’s because I stopped there, stepped back, and looked at what I’d done. Not only had I eclipsed the sun, but I’d filled the world with horror. I wanted to reach into the painting, to take my wife’s hand, to finish it with my own.

The painting itself went on to win awards, to find fancy homes for itself, first in galleries, then in private collections, then museums. But it did me a greater service. The painting sent me home from the beach, back to the job I’d forgotten I enjoyed, back to the art I’d committed to, back to the wife I love.

And I left the scotch behind to warm my friend’s cold beach house. I didn’t need it anymore.