Last night on the Grammys it was said, ...”music helps tell our stories...”. I agree, and it is a good way to lead in to this piece: “MEMORIES OF BUTTE”
The song that first fueled this piece (for me) was “Old Timer” by Willie Nelson.
“You fell in love
Back in the day
Can't forget her face
Can't remember her name
She was a beauty
A shining star
Just when you weren't looking she broke your heart.”
I remember the first time I heard this song, standing at the easel, imagining the lyrics to Nelson’s song paralleling the memory impressed upon me by my client. I felt connected to it, as I painted this ginger haired siren, envisioning her as love lost. That - I may never be sure of, as I do not know the story in its entirety. But he has mentioned on many occasions he’s been waiting 40 years for this piece. As the commission evolved from the photo shoot, to compositional drawings, to the colour study, and finally, the painting itself; I continued to learn small bits of information that inspired this long awaited piece. The song he offered part way through to mark that moment in his history was “Sundown” by Gordon Lightfoot. What an interesting light that shed for me!
“She's been lookin' like a queen in a sailor's dream
And she don't always say what she really means“.
I listened closely to the ruminative tone in my client’s voice. His brief sentences, were honest. I often chuckled at his candor, and was warmed by his sincerity as important details revealed the components that shaped the narrative of the painting. Aside from the flowers in the foreground, every detail in this sparsely composed painting was requested. They are significant to the story shared from the youthful adventures that have been kept private these 40 years. The entire piece proved to come together effortlessly. However, nearing the end of completion, I found myself committed more-so to the feeling the painting could invoke, rather than the accuracy of the source image or original muse. During these final weeks, and even after final approval given, the subject’s face morphed countless times. The hair that eventually draped across her shoulder, left a strand delicately resting on her forearm. I purposely edited out any jewelry, as they felt distracting. Her hair had grown in length and volume from the earlier drafts. Her gaze shifted from a suggestive “come hither”, to subtly alluring, and charmingly engaged. Her mouth softened from a pouty perse, and the corner of her mouth slightly turned to a playful, side grin, complimenting the smile I strove to imply with her eyes. Much of this piece was made from combined source photos, and my own recollections of inanimate objects. Of course there are many details that made this commission special and so much fun for me to do. Those, I shall keep to myself, respecting the privacy of my patron. While delivering the painting, he asked if it is hard for me to let go of works when they are finished. The answer is “Yes”. It can be difficult for me to let go of my work. Painting is like sending my own diary out into the world for people to see. It can feel vulnerable. Every mark made with the brush - my voice.
Truth: I loved painting this piece. I loved the journey it took me on. I will miss the whirlwind of the way the commission came to be, the way our communication developed, the generous freedom granted for making decisions, and this colourful person I had the great chance to get to know.
I will always hold close the memory of his genuine exclamations, “Coila, she’s beautiful!” and “I’ve been waiting forty years for this!”. What a gift to be asked to tell someone’s story through paint.
When taking a commission, I often ask about the type of music my clients listen to...a favourite song that marks the moment in time I’m attempting to paint; helping me connect to my subject. I agree, music helps to tell our stories. It helps me tell others’ stories. There are many songs that take me to significant moments in my own life. I like to refer to these moments as the “soundtrack to my life”, and Willie Nelson’s “Old Timer” is added to mine.
How about you? What’s yours?
“MEMORIES OF BUTTE” 27”x36” oil on custom Artefex linen panel