Monday, March 21, 2011

Moving Out

The old house stood beside the railroad tracks. A satellite dish turned its ear to the dead sky. Some of the windows were covered over with clapboards, like blind eyes. A freight train rumbled by, screeching and grinding.



A man came out of the house. He lifted a TV into the back of the pickup. Then he loaded in a chair and a table. He stretched a black plastic tarpaulin over the load and tied it down, jerking the rope and muttering. The black tarp shimmered in the March sunlight.

A woman leaned her head out of the door. “Get lost,” she yelled. “I don’t care if I never see you again.” The door slammed.  A turkey vulture circled overhead.

I sat on the sidewalk across the street, painting quietly. Cigarette butts were scattered beside my feet.

The man got into the truck and started the engine. The train passed and the crossing gates lifted. The truck roared across the tracks.

A half hour later the woman came out, wiping her eyes with her sweatshirt sleeves. She walked by, pushing a baby carriage, slowing down a little to see what I was doing.

(Note--I did this painting on location last week, and parts of it happened--the action of the truck and the train and the vulture, but the human story was imaginary. Sometimes I can't stop my mind from overlaying a story onto a scene, and I'm attracted to sketching in bleak neighborhoods because of the strange glimpses of human existence I encounter there.) 

15 comments:

Mike Porter said...

Speaking of stories, I received the book I bought from you and my wife showed me your inscription. We were using Skype as I'm overseas. Thanks for reading my story on the order form and responding to it. I appreciate the encouragement!

Jon Hrubesch said...

I love the atmosphere of this. These paintings look almost photographic.

Daroo said...

I really like this painting.

The picture and story bring Tom Waits to mind.

Petr Mores said...

These watercolor paintings of yours are just gorgeous, Mr. Gurney!!

Bonnie Heather said...

Thanks for the story. The painting is wonderful.

Ruth said...

The painting is wonderful. I came over from Dan's where he wrote a nouvelle 55 prompted by your painting, prompted by my new little genre! You just never know where these artistic expressions, out of sobering stories, will take us!

Leslie Lienau said...

A beautiful painting, indeed. Very subtle.

Jorge Bustamante said...

Beautiful!

Mario said...

You really know the secrets of light, these subtle effects are particularly difficult with watercolor.
Also, I love the almost invisible details like the "stripes" on both the roof and the walls.

Steve PP said...

Very Chandleresque, and a lovely watercolour sketch too!

Tom Hart said...

I'd love to hear a bit more about the process behind this painting, James, if you wouldn't mind. For example: what's the size of this one? Also, did you lay in the subtle ski color first?...And anything else you care to share about the process.

Thanks!

Roberto said...

Your watercolor, and your attraction to bleak neighborhoods, reminds me of a woman I once knew. She was an amazing watercolor portrait painter. Mary always wanted to paint portraits, and so she read and studied as much as she could about the technique and medium. She told me she spent years mentally painting peoples portraits in her minds-eye, visually examining their faces and mentally painting her patients, co-workers, and strangers. She didn’t start painting until she retired from nursing, and then… BAM… she started painting as if she had done it all her life! Fantastic and beautiful watercolor portraits! A real pro! She had no trouble getting commissions, but she hated the tame, refined and manicured portraits her clients wanted. Her favorite sitters were street people… homeless men and women, home-boyz, hustlers, working-women, and day-laborers. She would set her easel up near where the workers would gather and pay them ten-bucks to sit for her. As she worked they would tell her their stories, she would listen and paint the most incredibly sensitive and dignified portraits you can imagine.
She worked here in Pasadena, California, for many years until her eyesight failed her. When she couldn’t paint anymore she started making art-masks, but her heart wasn’t in it, and she passed away a few years ago from Parkinsons. Some of her work hangs at the senior-center here, and she and her husband published a book of her portraits. Her name is Mary Heussenstamm and I am grateful to have known her and to have called her a friend. Thanks for the Journey, Jim. –RQ

http://www.flickr.com/photos/cjanebuy/102199621/

http://www.amazon.com/Watercolor-Portraits-Painted-Streets-Angeles/dp/0970382200

http://www.worldofwatercolor.com/Artists/mheussenstamm/mhintro.htm

gbriank said...

Beautiful painting! The house is like a character itself. I see what you mean by sparking many stories. I also share your interest in bleak neighborhoods! Nice, James.

James Gurney said...

Thanks, everyone. Steve, I wasn't even aware of that color temperature change until you mentioned it. I was moving pretty fast, but the guiding thought was to vary warm and cool within the narrow range of this subject. In photos surfaces often appear flat and unvaried, but I find a little random variation helps, and I suppose that was what I was doing intuitively.

Mark Sindone said...

I love the painting! It has so much character! I love how you use the painting as a storage of stories. It’s nice. I really like paintings that have soul, and your painting certainly captures so much into one frame. You know we ordinary people do miss the beauty around us. We see a man loading his storage items into his pickup truck and driving off, probably off to the drudgery of work, while you see a nice story that connects the whole scene together. It’s like you have a film camera as you eyes and that records while your hands process the images into something we all understand. Not sure if you understand but that’s how I see painters in general. Well done there James.