“A tear contains an ocean. A photographer is aware of the tiny moments in a person’s life that reveal greater truths.”
Day 31 (378)
I am swamped with work, but thought I’d share one of the many unfinished artworks that year-after-year beckons me to just get ‘er done. I was taking an illustration class at Pasadena City College back in the early 1980s. The assignment was to pick a moment in history and create a two-page background editorial illustration for a fictitious magazine layout. Theoretically, the story would lie over the background.
I was inspired by the black and white photos taken by the WPA photographers who chronicled the depression, particularly Dorothea Lange. This is large—about 36 x 24 inches. Note the small red lips in the right-hand margin where I contemplated adding a touch of color to the prominent woman’s lips in the center of the drawing, akin to the hand-tinting of vintage photos. I remember nixing the idea because I have had a love affair with black and white everything since I first discovered Aubrey Beardsley in my youth—and because it seemed to detract from the stark social statement I was attempting to illustrate (it’s weird that I remember all of this).
You can’t really see the loose pencil drawing in the “blank” areas, but the vignetted drawings were of parents holding their babies. I also found a WPA photo of a shop window proudly flying the Stars and Stripes with a jaunty sign that read ‘Gee, it’s great to be an American.” That image is juxtaposed over the head of the wealthy socialite in the center. Everyone else in the composition were indigent migrants. Politics with a 6B pencil.
The sad thing is this: I am not sure I know how to finish this, even if I still had access to the magnificent book that I used for reference. I haven’t drawn with this kind of focused detail in at least three decades. Can I pick up where I left off without this seeming like two different people’s handiwork? Maybe. One of these days. When I have nothing else to do.
All of this unfinished work—be it drawings or paintings, or the snippets of prose that are scattered on my computer and throughout myriad notebooks—are my various attempts at proving my detractors right (when I should have worked myself into a frenzy proving them wrong). They are at once an indication that God has somewhat blessed me and that evil demons have claimed me. Damn.
For someone who was most certainly touched by God, I heartily recommend that you watch the American Masters portrait of Dorothea on Amazon (if you’re a Prime member, it’s included). She was a marvel who led a fascinating and important life. Thankfully, we learn she was also flawed and beautifully human. Maybe there’s hope for me after all.
Watch on Amazon Prime: Dorothea Lange: Grab a Hunk of Lightning
A song for today: Unfinished | Mandisa