Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Prettiest Girl I Had Ever Seen

I kissed Terry Richardson outside the door to our first grade classroom. It was a bright fall morning and a number of us were waiting patiently for the door to be unlocked. Our classroom was on an outside corridor that opened up to a southern exposure and the low morning sun was filtering through the fall leaves. The dappled shadows played across our faces. The sidewalk and classroom wall were calico. It was a windless, bright, and tepid day.

It was Mrs. Lidecks’ custom to enjoy her preparation time without benefit of her students’ help, so she had locked the classroom doors to the outside world. We first graders stood in the corridor, eagerly awaiting the bell, making small talk. I have no idea what the talk was about that day. I have no idea how I managed to or why I kissed her, but I did. She did not yell or scream, or try to get away. There was no whispering to her girlfriends. She simply smiled. The bell rang. The door opened. We filed inside and that was the end of our romantic entanglement. Life is busy for first graders and the opportunity never arose again.

Later on in college, I was talking to a new found friend, and, in the spirit of small talk, I mentioned where I was from. The conversation evolved from there into a discussion of how small a world it really was. It turns out that he knew a Terry Richardson. In fact, the Richardson’s had been family friends for years. They were from my home town. Since they did not live in the same area, he had never considered the option of dating her, but he admitted in a moment of candor that she was perhaps the prettiest girl he had ever seen. I nodded absently.

Quite some years later, I decided to take up oil painting. I enjoyed the quiet time and introspection it afforded. I also liked the technical problems painting presented, like coloration and how to load a brush for just the right effect. I learned how the use of composition in painting can create a sense of movement, or of peace; how brush strokes can create tension; how color can affect mood. I attempted a couple of paintings on my own, copies of the masters, to examine in detail how they managed to work the colors and layer the paint for a given outcome.

I took a night class once and did a study of a single element from Renoir’s “Luncheon of the Boating Party,” a wine glass on the table. It looks just like glass and yet, it is simply a white pigment brushed hastily over a dappled background. It took me several tries before I was able to make my attempts look even remotely like glass. There is a reason these artists are called masters.

I have always been drawn to this painting. The mood it evokes in me is unique, but I had been at a loss to understand what about it I liked so much. A few years ago I had the opportunity to see it up close at the Phillips Collection in Washington DC. It is more striking in person than in any reproduction. I stared at it for a good half hour moving slightly from one spot to the next to see how the ambient light changed the look of the painting. That half hour wasn’t quite enough, but my thoughts coalesced there in the gallery.

As the light played across the faces of the boating party, I remembered standing outside one bright fall morning when I was in the first grade. The dappled shadows played across our faces. I have no regrets about Terry Richardson.

© 2009 Mark Indermill - All Rights Reserved

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