Tuesday, August 30, 2016
I have spent the greater part of my life as an oil painter and oil painting teacher. This may have not been so except for a windy day and a last minute decision to grab my green bandanna.
In the summer of my junior year at a Midwestern religious college, I chose to live somewhat independently in one of my favorite places, Myrtle Beach. Myrtle Beach was where my inland high school friends and I had spent many a summer’s day laying on the beach and many a summer’s night dancing, meeting new boys, and having our hearts broken. Spending an entire season there with good friends sounded like a great idea to me in the summer of 1977. My girlfriends, my sister, and I got jobs at a sea food restaurant and set up our schedules to include laying on the beach during the day, working till 10:00, and then , go dancing till dawn. Life was very, very good, but something was still missing for me.
Two things had led me far from home to a religious college deep in the heart of the Bible Belt: religious inquiry and a desire to become a better artist.
Tulsa, Oklahoma is actually often referred to as the “buckle” of the Bible Belt. It was there where I began looking for answers to the burning religious questions that had popped up in my senior year of high school. It was there where I also hoped to find instruction in art, and in painting in particular.
The answers to the religious questions only brought up more questions, and I am still on that journey. The school was woefully inept at giving any valuable instruction in painting however, as the baseball coach did double duty as our painting teacher. The day, half way into the semester that he brought in some of his own work was the day I realized that any knowledge I would obtain in the area of painting would have to be on my own. Not given any instruction on how to use the tools of a painter, I was doomed to make the same mistakes over and over and would always come up short in obtaining a good painting after weeks of trying. I knew that my senior art project awaited me in the fall semester but I had doubts that I could come up with anything worth hanging on a wall. Maybe I would come up with a great idea over the summer.
Needing time alone, one day, during that summer, I went exploring on my own in hopes of finding a secluded beach where I might just walk and enjoy the natural dunes and surf. I drove several miles before turning in the direction of the ocean onto a road boarded by pine trees on both sides.
I soon found myself in an untouched area with tall dunes covered with sea oats. It was my favorite time of day, the gloaming, where the sun sits low in the sky and gives everything it touches, a warm glow.
I had long hair back then, and still do. The changing tides and approaching dusk, kicked up the wind, and to keep the hair from constantly blowing in my face, I donned my favorite green bandanna and set off across the sand.
I had not seen a single soul for quite a while when I saw an approaching man. “Should I turn around and walk the other way in order to avoid him altogether, or should I continue on in the direction I was going?”
I walked on. We passed each other and both said hello. He stopped me and said, “I saw you coming my way and was struck by the sight of the sunlight on your bright green scarf. I wish I had my paints with me so that I could capture that image.”
“You are an artist?” I asked.
“Yes, I am.” He replied in a foreign accent that I couldn’t quite place. To my 21 year old eyes, he was an old man (probably in his late 50s). My intuition told me that he was someone who I could feel safe with. In that moment we both decided we had enough of solitude and decided to walk together.
I learned that he had escaped on foot, from Hungary during the war, many years ago with his son, Attila on his back. Shortly thereafter he came to this country and began to make his living as a painter and had a gallery just up the road. I explained that I was a girl of very little means with a strong desire to become an artist.
I can’t, now remember who suggested this arrangement but both of us, being people who love a good barter, made a move to become coworkers and eventually great friends. Needless to say, I ended up working in his gallery for the rest of the summer in exchange for painting lessons.
I would now find myself starting the day at 5:30 in the morning, standing on that same beach, painting with my new friend and mentor, John Szekes. It was from those early plein aire lessons where I began to have the confidence to continue on as a painter. John and I remained friends for many years until his death.
I would not be the person I am today, and would not have lived the charmed life as a painter had it not been for a windy day and a last minute choice to bring a green bandanna.