Monday, February 27, 2012

"God is not a bookkeeper, God is a painter."

Michael retired to the upstairs of his home in 2001 and took refuge in two rooms of his art studio.  “God is not a bookkeeper,” he tells me.  “God is a painter.”

While  writing Miss Ellie's Cafe, I stumbled on a painting by Luis Canizare in a restaurant on Old Brompton Road in London.  I am by no means an art connoisseur, however I was taken with this particular painting, Cambio de Tercio, and began to think of ways to incorporate it into the novel.  I had a painter as a minor character.  I needed to know more about the methods and what inspires painters, so I called Michael to schedule a visit.

Before you walk into Michael and Brenda’s modest home on Main Street, you are at first reminded of grandmother’s house in the early 1900’s; two story, white clapboard with a wrap-around front porch.  Once inside, however, you know that grandmother would never have allowed such things.  The walls are covered from ceiling to floor with large canvases and an assortment of serial abstracts.  In the middle of all of this sits a newly renovated kitchen with brass pots hanging from the ceiling and an antique cherry dining room table with silver tea settings on the buffet.  That’s Brenda’s world.  Michael’s world is upstairs.  “The most important benefit in my life (and strong goad to believe in Divine Providence) was to get the right wife,” he says.

Upstairs, paintings continue to hug one another frame to frame, and then you walk into “the studio.”  It is the desk of the great mathematician who has no time for organization, the desktop of the financial wizard who deplores folders or the philosopher who refuses to keyhole ideas into categories.  Surrounding me is a sprawl of acrylics, oils, pastels, brushes, oils, turpentine and, gasp - electrical wires.  A small heater sits in the corner of the room and a lamp from Michael’s boyhood provides light across a 6’x 6’ piece of plywood, used to create an extended table-top.

Having oriented me to the place he most loves, Michael proceeds to demonstrate a technique he’s developed call Line Painting.  Taking a pre-stretched canvas, which runs about $50 - $60 each, Michael uses an eyedropper to dip into small amounts of paint he has poured into plastic dishes.  As cautious as a surgeon, he releases two or three drops at the top of the canvas.  He slowly turns the canvas as the drops move to give the paint a bit of a sinuous curved.  When the  paint slows to a stop, he adds a few more drops to extend the line and continues to turn the canvas to accentuate the sinuous curve.  This is done several times before the line finally reaches its home base on the other side of the canvas.  That’s the FIRST line, mind you.  The first of hundreds more to come, maybe even thousands.

Michael warns me there are several things to watch for.  If the artist becomes impatient and adds too much paint at once the line may break and take off in an entirely different direction.  The paint must be the correct viscosity, thin enough to flow freely but thick enough to create solid opaque lines. “It’s all so simple when you think about it, and yet, I’m amazed at the number of unspoken assumptions I live by.”  A painting can start out as one picture and slowly develop into something entirely unexpected…sort of like life.

Line Painting is labor intensive and time consuming.  Each line has to dry before the next one can be added to make sure that the first and second don’t bleed into each other.  This requirement for patience can sometimes be excruciating.  “The Devil is always tapping on the window.  I have to constantly remind myself to honor my profession.”

Michael’s work can be found at Harbor Gallery in Norfolk, VA.  For more information regarding his paintings, contact me at  and I will gladly forward messages.  Bits and pieces of the information he provided are scattered throughout my novel, but unfortunately, far too much related to the talent and labor involved was determined to be unrelated back story.  Back story for a novel, perhaps, but the ingredients that create masterpieces in real life.

1 comment:

  1. I am impressed with Michael's work, in particular, the patience and dedication it requires. But even more, I love his quote, "God is not a bookkeeper, God is a painter." I am writing that down.

    Mary Beth Gibson