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2012 Brooklyn, Portland, Oregon, United States
A Picture and a Thousand Words
I have been threatening to write a thousand words to accompany a picture for quite some time now. I have written to plenty of approximate word counts, from an early essay of 250 words more or less to a minimum of 600 - 400 if I’m reviewing a children’s book - at the newspaper that’s my bread and butter. I know the tricks.
I like the problem of exactly one thousand words, the arbitrary nature of the assignment, though I can choose to allow the title or not, make or unmake contractions. I can choose to do things I haven't even dreamed of yet. I can choose to delete "even" in that last sentence or increase the word count with "things I haven't even begun to dream of yet." It's a problem, but it's the kind of problem I like solving, as is the problem documented in the picture that accompanies these thousand words.
The working title of the picture is Cave Printing. The site of the picture is a part of my basement dwelling I call The Cave, as opposed to The Tunnel. The Tunnel, as you might imagine, is long and narrow and has a light at the end of it, natural as well as artificial. The Cave, on the other hand, is basically rectangular and largely dark. It has one source of natural light, but this could not be further away from the site of Cave Printing and still be located in The Cave. Cave Printing is situated down a narrow corridor at the innermost corner of The Cave. Cave Printing shares this little region, known as The Long Hall, with my library, a painting from Cuba, and a piece of carpet that is primarily green with touches of gold, red-brown (What is the other name of that color? Burnt umber? Sienna?), light blue, black, and grey. The colors of the carpet and the painting, which get along well together, are influences on Cave Printing, as are the colors of paint I have on hand. None of these colors have appeared in my life at random; most are colors I chose with considerable care, at times even influenced by the names on the backs of the paint chips. There will never be a place for a color called “Afternoon Delight” in Cave Printing, even if that was the unfortunate name of a color I would have otherwise used to paint the guest bedroom, back when I lived upstairs.
I feel myself somewhat allied with the unknown but celebrated individuals whose work graces El Castillo, Amhem Land, and Lascaux, though in doing so I remind myself of a child playing at working. While my Cave comes with a challenge or two the better-known sites of cave art did not - cleaning up, for example - no doubt my forbears would have loved to trade places with me. My Cave is warm, dry, well-lighted by an incandescent bulb burning directly above Cave Printing, and safe. The vertical surface I am working on is smooth and clean, a wall of sheetrock painted white.
I thought of hanging the painting from Cuba on that wall at one time, then thought of making a big swift abstract expressionist painting there, but I was finally prompted to begin Cave Printing by a conversation about how much greater an influence practice is on competence than talent. Ten thousand hours, my interlocutor pointed out, seems to be the amount of time it takes to get good at practically anything. Best get started on something, I found myself thinking, something I would like to spend a whole lot of time doing, something with plenty of opportunity for experiments and problems and solutions and more experiments and more problems. Something inexpensive. Something nearby. Something I don’t ever have to finish. Something with standards that can be easily raised and lowered. Something a little messy. Something there aren’t a lot of examples of already.
It all started with a bumpy gourd that turned out to be a thoroughly unsatisfying printing implement, yet inspired me to be on the lookout for other potentially more satisfying implements among my expansive collection of objects. Hairbrush, nail brush, toothbrush, rubber ball with nubbly projections, curly cord, wooden block, sponge, skewer. With the discovery of a can of spray paint and a flat piece of metal with holes in it (formerly employed as an espresso machine drip tray), printing briefly gave way to spray stenciling. With the discovery, at a yard sale, of a complete collection of tiny alphabet rubber stamps and, in my own box of rubber stamping supplies - untouched for at least a decade - ink pads still eager to oblige, spray stenciling moves over for rubber stamping. Fiber, thread, string, fabric swirl in my daydreams, looking for a way to incorporate themselves.
There were flaws in the surface of the wall to begin with, though my illustrious cave-painting ancestors would have been too busy marveling at the wonder of drywall to note the long, shallow indentation in just the right place, come to think of it, to provoke the idea of a horizon line. There are dirty scuff marks I'll eventually want to cover. There is one small gouge I think might be the reminder that we mortals cannot make anything perfect. I added to these flaws with my own unfamiliarity with the implements and materials I chose: the spray paint that dripped, the wooden hot-chocolate stirrer with a hidden curve that insisted that each point of its star be pressed separately against the wall, and the house paint that, even after I had figured out I needed to blot the loofah I was using after dipping in, was still too dark a blue. But there were far more happy accidents than unfortunate ones, and even the drips, smears and globs are challenges to be met, not failures to be regretted. There’s no starting over for Cave Printing. There’s only starting again. And again.

all rights reserved Josephine Bridges ©2012-2013