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Dorothea Tanning: Philosophie en plein air [Fresh-air Philosophy] (1969)
" … become essentially invisible while standing there in plain sight."

The rules seem clear enough, but impossible to follow. If I had infinite inside space, I might be able to lay down a perfect TopCoat, but I don't. I have baseboards balanced atop everything in the Pop-up Paint Shoppe, garbage cans, empty cat litter tubs, the table, even saw horses. It took an hour or longer to lay the prime coat on, a little less for the first TopCoat. The second, and typically the last TopCoat, should take a little longer because it gets the most meticulous preparation. It's the absolutely last chance to amend the record posterity will record. There will be some sanding and filling involved. What passed muster after priming and didn't quite cause a fluster after the first TopCoat, will find my puritan heart and demand reform before heading on. My sanding block will find some work. So will my putty knife.

Painting forces a painter into numerous poses, for there's just no applying paint while standing straight upright.
The painter must maintain a certain distance from their painting surface and only a narrow range of angles relative to it to properly see what they're doing. It resembles a slow motion, music-less dance, a sort of constricted Thai Chi performed for hours sometimes without a break. I can maintain an hour or so of such disciplined motion before my back gives out or up or something. Kurt Our Painter, a true professional, can maintain those poses for an entire eight hour shift without losing control or focus. He produces flawless TopCoats, ones where brush strokes disappear as if they never existed because he's so exacting when preparing his surfaces. TopCoats testify most to the quality of their undercoats. If they held flaws, these cannot avoid showing through.

My TopCoat, the one I'm planning to apply today, will be accomplished in fits and starts. Because the boards are draped all over creation, some will receive their final communion while I'm kneeling, others while I'm standing, almost each will receive their paint while I'm off balance, attempting to compensate for the difference between how I'd hope it would be and how it will be right then. I will be shuttling boards between locations after just painting them, making space to apply new paint to different boards. I will look like a battlefield nurse, quietly moving from shape to shape, kneeling to administer solace before moving on to the next. I will notice certain flaws then but feel powerless to do anything about them. I will clearly see some boards, others, due to glare or light angle or something, I'll paint almost blindly, trusting that my muscle memory will manage the operation without visual conformation. Nothing in the rule book suggests applying TopCoat while blinded, but in fact, it often happens.

I'm moved to apologize to those painters who came before me, those who laid down the TopCoats I summarily sanded off while critically mumbling about their taste and talent. They, too, most likely faced certain challenges when TopCoating their work. Maybe they couldn't remove the baseboards and so applied their coat while crawling along the bottom of the wall, further encumbered by whatever they used to keep their TopCoat off the flooring. Maybe their light was much worse than any I ever find in my Pop-up Paint Shoppe. I couldn't know and could not tell their story by looking at the quality of their painting. Unless I was there, immersed in their context, I could have no basis upon which to pass judgement, My TopCoat won't be perfect, either, just perfect enough. I will have done my best, found it somewhat wanting, and tried to correct the worst of its shortcomings by touching up and clever caulking. My goal will be to drive the glance away from these baseboards. They should fade into background, serve as the frame for the larger picture and so become essentially invisible while standing there in plain sight. May they be perfect enough again this time.

©2021 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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