My last post was about the two pastel paintings I’ve produced since returning to class with Andy Reimanis of the Caldera Arts group. I”ve had some lovely feedback about the mating stick insects and the phascogale, including an email from my son, who said :”Holy f…. Mum! Pardon my French! I thought you had included the photo as a comparison! It’s really amazing!” One of my daughters said the phascogale was “just like a photograph”. At first I wasn’t sure about this, as I don’t like photographic paintings, and I know that the backgrounds I created in both paintings, especially the phascogale, drifted further and further away from the original photos, under Andy’s guidance. Like the day he drew a black slanting line (in pastel) across the painting, and said to make the lower log, the grey one, go up on the same angle as the one behind it, as if it goes horizontally, it would detract from the creature sitting on it. I groaned, and spent hours trying to get rid of the green from the leaves in the background where the log now was, to try and bring it to a grey that continued the tones of the rest of it. Once again, when I took it back to class, Andy showed me how to fine tune this. That’s the wonderful thing about pastels, you can make terrible mistakes (as I have done with my most recent painting of a king parrot) and rather than throw it away, as I would have done, you can recover it.
Which is a long-winded way of saying that, as with words, the truth is not necessarily factual, pedantic and legalistic. Of course, sometimes it needs to be. But in creative work, the truth is inner, emotional. So with memoir, it is the inner truth you hold that you need to let shine forth, and let the externals shift and change to support that. Details may be invented, imagined, or left out, but the overall shape of the story and the characters in it are true to your memory of them. Everyone’s truth is different, and it’s not a court of law.
In painting, the style Andy teaches, wholly appropriate to an ethos of biodiversity and conservation, is traditional realism. The creature itself is honoured and respected, and the artist strives to recreate it in its unique beauty. And as with a story in words, the emotional and bodily life of the subject shines forth from its background, from the arrangement of the elements of nature around it.