The preparations for tomorrow’s party are going well and the work is progressing slowly. My puppies are unlearning their house-training and the kitchen floor is awash with puddles.
Tonight I am cooking supper for a friend who is wheel-chair bound. She is a talented artist and runs courses teaching others calligraphy and how to do landscapes in oils and portraits, how to capture the shades of skin colour with an underlying green base. Her home is an art gallery, framed oils and sketches everywhere, the smell of linseed oil and turpentine. There are soapstone carvings she brought down from Zimbabwe and small figurines in polished wood. In her patio garden, serpentine basalt sculptures gleam among the begonias and ferns.
I love being around artists and sculptors and writers, those who have taken the risk to commit their working lives to art. They are practical and resourceful as well as vulnerable. Commercial success is never the point because their real critics are their peers, their fellow-artists, and their challenges and demands are not defined by awards or financial remuneration. Many artists do not want to part with their work, would rather keep the sculpture in a studio or attic than have to see it disappear into the soulless environs of a private collecor’s home. For some each work is part of a greater whole, the interconnected and developing vision that shapes the artist’s life. They long to be understood but reconcile themselvs to being misunderstood for the most part.
It is a privilege to spend time with such friends and I like to sit looking at the paintings or sculptures and slowly come to understand them, be able to ‘place’ them alongside other contrasting works or in a genre or movement. From time to time I feel confident enough to write about the art itself. An artist I resisted for a long time because her images of children and girls disturbed me with its implicit sense of violation is now one of the top-selling artists in the United States: Marlene Dumas from the shabby little dorp of Kuils River. Her work is troubling and edgy but compelling. It took me eight or nine years to truly appreciate her artworks.
Creativity is mostly hard work and the odd stroke of luck. I am something of a plodder myself, especially now I am sober. I do the same things every day, with predictable results, but they are healthy sustaining habits that anchor me in a new way of being with myself and others.
Outside there is the fullness of summer, the garden bursting with colour and green after the rains. Next week I must cut back origanum and lavender and rosemary again, plant more coriander seeds, take cuttings for the shade areas. Although I am very fond of rue, that greeny-blue pungency, it makes my hands blister from even the most tangential contact so I shall not plant any more of it. And later today the lawn must be mowed in readiness for the party tomorrow.
Small practicalities that add up to the art of living well in togetherness with others. Time and attention. Once my life spilled away in wasted afternoons and forgotten evenings, great vacant and sterile blocks of time gone without trace. That was then. Now I want to make each moment count and watch everything becoming.