When I was eleven, I knew pretty much everything I needed to know about my creativity. I was to forget what I knew, for decades. In art school, the prevailing subject matter was abstraction, rendered at an immense scale, an entire roll of canvas pulled across stretcher bars that could frame a house. My art school rebellion involved the pursuit of realism, proclaimed dead, yet I succumbed to the grand scale aesthetic, and made realism twelve feet at a time. Not birds and twigs and stones, but chairs and fallen articles of clothing and plates and bowls and other empty things.
An old art school buddy called one day in 1985, asking if I could draw eight pen and ink images of Ronald McDonald by three o’clock the next afternoon. I think I might have snorted with contempt. “We’ll pay eight hundred dollars each”, she said. For the next ten years, I drew running shoes and automatic teller machines and sunglasses and teddy bears and doughnuts, saw these images reproduced on buses and Time Magazine and posters in TJ Maxx and interstate billboards and boxes of Reeboks. One morning, I sat on a bus across from two besuited businessmen, their Boston Globes open to the same full page spread of my illustrations for an exhibit at the Museum of Science. Crass as it was, that project turned on an old light. I told my agent that I wanted to specialize in nature subjects. “There’s no money in that”, she said. I found another agent, a nice woman who’d left New York City for the countryside, who lived in a Greenwich farmhouse and had sweet dog. For the next decade, I drew nests and birds and insects and reptiles and butterflies and fish.
Somewhere in time, I began teaching younger people to draw and paint, then found myself tenured, married to an art college. Clients began to seem like gnats, yapping at me on the phone at all hours, annoying intrusions on my studio time. My teaching salary gave me permission to say no, so for the next decade, I’ve done what I did when I was eleven, with a little more technical skill. I can forget that march around the perimeter of a large circle of years, only to return to where I began, which is why the pheasant drawing hangs above the primary work table in my studio, to remind me.