Painting Memories

Since returning from Nice, you could say I’ve been a bit obsessed. In the span of a few weeks, I’ve created seven palm tree paintings, and I’ve got at least one more to go. While in Nice, we saw an exhibit of Raoul Dufy’s work and it set off fireworks in my brain. So I’ve been locking myself in my sunroom and painting palm tree after palm tree in the hopes of creating something that is a decent homage to Raoul. I think I’m getting close.


This isn’t my first travel-inspired/artist-inspired paint-fest, but it’s the first time I’ve thought about why I do it. The easy answer is that it allows me to create my own souvenir. I can’t afford Jeff Koons’s Balloon Dog, but I can come home and paint my own version. When I pass it in the living room, it makes me smile and remember my trip to LACMA, where every pass by the giant chrome sculpture made me giggle in delight. I remember the child-like emotion of being overwhelmed with a happiness that is larger than you are. When I pass by my ode to Olafur Eliassion, I remember standing in amazement in front of millions of lights showering down in front of me.


In some instances, such as Raoul Dufy and his lovely palm trees along the Promenade des Anglais, it would be easier to purchase prints. But in doing so, I’m missing a connection to the artist. In my six paintings of palms, I’ve found an appreciation in the details. I’ve learned how difficult it can be to apply the color first and the defining strokes afterwards. I’ve realized that simplicity still requires patience and precision. I’m going through a process both completely different and exactly the same as Dufy and every other artist. I’m reinterpreting my environment and trying to show what something looks like, and feels like, to me.


With the palm trees, I unexpectedly connected with a different type of memory. As I thinned the black paint and rolled my fine-tipped brush into it, I remembered painting with my grandma. When she was younger (and I was younger), my grandma created oil paintings and babysat me while my parents were at work. After much begging, she agreed to help me paint my own piece of art. I’m now pretty sure my grandma did most of the painting, but she included me enough that I thought for years I had painted it. And while preparing to sign my name to this latest gold palm tree, I had the most vivid memory of her teaching me how to do it. She showed me how to get paint on the brush and then pull it out, against the palette and roll the bristles so that they will make a perfect thin line. I realized that this little task, that I had done at least fifty times in my adult life, was one taught to me before I could read, by a woman I consider my second mother.


Could I have bought a Raoul Dufy print? Of course. But I wouldn’t have appreciated his meticulously placed strokes that appear easy and carefree. I wouldn’t have examined the structure of a palm tree and the proportions of frond-to-trunk. And I wouldn’t have remembered being a small girl sitting next to my grandma, while she taught me to pull my brush through the paint and own my work.