“HAWK & GOGH~~Vincent and Me”
Chapter One of a novel
by Barbara Sparhawk
I’m packing again, on the move again. The dusk of early Yosemite night shoots its warm springtime gold pink lavender I have watched in this air for the year. False comfort. This has not been an easy time. I am glad to leave these granite canyons and clawing Douglas firs.
The small cabin is cluttered with old boxes to empty and new ones set for booty to keep. I lift up a cardboard portfolio, once black now faded gray, lay it across the top of clustered crates and to do this makes for a cold sweat across my shoulders and back and up my neck. I avoided opening this for years of many moves, and it will remind me of more than I may want to remember.
I pull at the black ribbon that closes it to shake loose its dust, lay aside its broad cover. I brush these tempered hands across the first thing on top, an old sepia ink drawing of mine. I hold it out arm’s length in front of me. It makes a windstorm in my grip. I recognize this small bit of paper torn from a sketchbook, effort from another time. I sniff it and yes yes it does it smells of ancient history.
The drawing is no simple footnote. It is the single perfect relic from long, long ago. My life then in the heady 60’s and 70′s, my doubting young painter’s years in New York City. The drawing fills this cranky dark, this boxed up and emptying room which is most singularly, totally, ultimately west. East coast friends ride in across time on a gallop through thin walls. We were 19, and 20 and 21. Stubborn and green and thrilled at every turn. Excited voices and faces fly at me. That life was the potent substance that built the bones I travel on today.
I sit and look around my here and now. The drawing does not leave my fingers. I turn to look at the present, the calendar, the clock. My broken leg is healed. The book is written. The hired trailer due tonight will pull through these dry High Sierra hills behind Debi’s mighty truck. I will drop the pounds I added sitting in chairs for three months nursing a shattered tibia, get wirey and sure-footed again. I am headed for the coast, the sea, away away away from this rotted old gold miner’s shack that leans against granite boulders above its clear green shallow pond below the pink air of Ansel Adam’s cotton cloud skies.
The drawing will not leave my fingers. I see too much here and see what followed. I have lived fascinating decades of wrong and right. I have been wholesome and corrupt, most kind and most cruel. I have made my chances for a life played out full from all I had in me, and clutched emptiness with bare and bloody hands. I have been brave and paralyzed with fear. I have been alone and mingled. I have born a little red-haired boy who reached 23 then died. I am older than I was. Waiting to feel age. Not sure I ever will. It doesn’t interest me.
I make a pot of coffee and have sweet rolls left to chew on. There are three hours maybe to let myself go into hallucinatory memory of who I was that I will better understand who I am now.
35 years ago I was finding my way through an electrifying city. Museums, movie houses, books stalls, uptown, downtown, Chinatown, Staten Island, Coney Island. Over stimulated by the riches that were mine though pocket-poor.
I relished the rare reassuring talk with my fellow sojourners. What have you seen. What shape does it take on canvas. What are the colors inside shadows. Who of the old school do we hate and do we love. I make a desperate subway ride to Pearl Paint on Broadway for Prussian blue, or zinc white, or nickel green before their door shuts, the calculated pennies and crumpled bills stuffed in my pockets. Edvarsky’s store front, his art show on Third Avenue next week. Get a black beret at army surplus. Wendy phones at 3 am because she discovers vermillion. Let’s meet at the Museum of Modern Art to look at Tchelechev again. We race to impromptu midnight spaghetti fetes where each comes with one loaf, one can, one lone bottle of coarse wine that carries all of us forth from an unsteady night into a less than faltering dawn. And once, oh heaven, Roberta’s memorable Thanksgiving Day oven-baked lasagna feeding the artists at work all night who for once face more food than is needed to fill the belly, feed the flame.
The excitement of the gathering is short. Talk dwindles, paranoia creeps visible on the bodies and faces around us for we will not stay too long nor speak too deep lest the brushes clutched in our individual hands be sullied by the penultimate horror of someone else’s idea so off we slouch to streetlights. Painting is private. We wrap ourselves in heather and sea foam and secrecy and find our trails alone, the way ghosts slide with diminished outline out of view we depart from one another quietly bursting with originality, future conquerors of the universe. Us! Me!
One devastating night I am hopeless and frantic. I spend tortured hours on a painting that lacks the decency to have a mind of its own but instead goes nowhere. Dawn is on its way. Money-earning work will force my wrenching leave of this troubled mess. What is worse? To be in its presence or know it sits waiting for my return for resolution. I stand fractured, cursing myself that I ever touched paint. If my brain is afire with the discovery of color and form I am incapable of expressing I may as well die. I watch a waning moon fill my rooms and taunt me with its hue and know I will not in my lifetime get what is in my heart out onto canvas. I scream. I roar in agony. I seize a wooden kitchen chair and splinter it against my floorboards. I am lost to life, emptied from an upturned boat into a cold raging ocean nightmare.
Then, as if led by some unseen force that intends for life despite the odds, I proceed to conjure up a friend a compatriot. My hands shake. I am panting. I seize a sketchbook. Pen. Bottle of ink. And I begin to draw Vincent Van Gogh visiting my Brooklyn carriage house to view my work. To talk to me. The tortured man to share my torture. The pen strokes are hard and firm and bold. Within minutes he appears at my front door. The adventure begins.