We have lots of pictures on our walls. They are a combination of paintings, collages, lithographs, and photographs. Many depict women and men watching them. Some are rooms, life in the sky and under the water. Some are portraits. They have color and tend to be semi-realistic, although the realism is sometimes a problem. Some rooms have ten such depictions, and others as few as three. No room is without them.
Sometimes they require adjustment. It might be the repeated closing of a door or the opening of a window or footsteps upon stairs, or a perhaps it is a breeze. But when they are off kilter, so is their space. That’s when adjustment may be needed.
The first step is in noticing that things are not quite right. Something is off; discordant to the symmetry of the room. I love symmetry, but I am trying to learn to appreciate how it can be fractured and reformed. It takes me a while to find the picture that has been moved by slow forces that I don’t truly understand, yet.
I notice it. Then I become more aware of it and then I decide if I wish to do anything about it. That process can take weeks or seconds, but it is inevitable.
Why do pictures on walls move? Is there a metaphorical contributor to their shifting? I think that there might be but that it is one of the mysteries of rooms and homes and pictures.
Blue Rodeo wrote:
Maybe some picture appears in your head
Knocks you right off of your track
All the doubts and confusions flood in instead
One little step out that door and you never go back
Pictures appear and then they shift. Pictures contain a perspective that is most times partially understood.
On the first floor of my home there are three doors. Over one hangs a lithograph by Fanch Ledan. It depicts a modern apartment with no people but quite inviting because of the things that inspire a sense of well-being. After the door beneath it closes, an uncertain number of times, it begins to tilt. It wants attention of the gentlest nature. A sweet, small touch-
Some of my pictures have a travelling history. When my mother’s employment agency closed, I took a print of a famous Lincoln pose with me. It hung in my classrooms. I talked to it. Later, it was placed in our bathroom. It was large and seemed to be staring at the person who was seated on the toilet. Campaign buttons were affixed to it. People would often be startled and we would hear these gasps and exclamations come from the bathroom and know that it had surprised them. It was a private source of amusement. Now Lincoln hangs, without the campaign buttons, in a vestibule by a front door that is rarely used. I still talk to it but no longer out loud.
It occurs to me that pictures are like memories, images that were once front and center but now occupy less frequented places. Some seem to stay clear and close forever and, like people, some pass through your life and do not return.
On one wall of my study, there is a very small image that I think was once part of a greeting card. It is a black and white Beardsley. It presents an image of a person in a cloak wandering in a terrain of what seems to be floating mushrooms. I know very little about the backstory of the image, but it always conjures up a time and place in my life where I felt like I lived with a collection of explorers. That small image has been on my desk, in a drawer, packed into boxes, but now enjoys a spot where it is seen many times a day but by very few people. This small picture is caressed more often than it is adjusted. It had hung with that group of explorers who may have just been young people who were about discovering themselves.
I now have a collection collages created by my friend Deborah. They keep her close to me. They are there for me every day and night. I treasure them as a fine artistic gift that shows love mated with creativity. Each speaks to me in different ways. One is a fragmented depiction of one of my poems. I like the fragments and the colors but wonder if she feels that this is how I appear: fragmented.
In my last years as a professional educator, I was put in charge of something that I truly loathed. It was a bureaucratic punishment for having rebelled and not been successful. I was required to oversee performance on standardized testing and I hated it. But for my personal aggrandizement, I oversaw it anyway. There was one question; it was called the picture prompt,and students were required to create a narrative based upon their viewing of a picture.
I found the question valuable. It seemed to tease images into language. I liked that because it was an opportunity to learn. And then came statistics. What the reviewers were really looking for was this or that. None of those things had anything to do with creativity.
I created a bastard theory. Based on what they were evaluating, a student could create one story and then apply it to any picture. It worked on the test. Maybe the learning to apply one thing to another was also valuable. I had figured out that the pictures would always be ambiguous and evocative. With some adjustments, one size could fit all. I taught them how to compensate. One more kind of adjusting pictures. Then, of course, that prompt was eliminated.
Some pictures come with a fight. My mother collected pictures and autographs of celebrities. It started after she sold the employment agency. She sensed the timing and opened a ceramics shop. When the work of that became arduous, she sold it and opened a video store. People liked seeing autographed pictures of their favorite stars and actors. My mom liked to write to famous people and got her fair share of genuine responses.
One was from Jackie Gleason. The Jackie Gleason Show and then The Honeymooners is one of the video tracks of my childhood. And no, it never occurred to me that “Pow, Zoom,” was ever a real possibility. When I was a little boy, I used to get passes to see movies in downtown Newark, where my mom worked. One day I got a pass to the Lowes Theater on Broad Street and saw a double feature of The Hustler and The Guns of Navarone. For five and one half hours, I was transfixed. I went back and saw it the next day. Why I had that option and responsibility is a different story. And then I saw Gleason in Soldier in the Rain. I respected him and in some ways worshipped his talent.
My mom wrote to him near the end of his life and told him how much I had loved his acting. She told how much she loved his acting. He wrote back and answered her question that he was more than willing to do a second Hustler film and more than willing to revive the character of Minnesota Fats.
After my mother died, and people picked through her things, I asked for two of them. The Lennox China that she had always promised to my wife and the autographed picture of Jackie Gleason. It became a dispute because another relative saw its eBay potential. I did not respond kindly, but I got my picture in more ways than one.
In the corner of our very strangely arranged and L shaped kitchen, it hangs with a lithograph of Michael and Vito Corleone and an autographed picture of Frank Sinatra that Valerie was bequeathed after her mother died. The lithograph hung in a wonderful restaurant called Mamma Lucia’s. My family and I were friends with the family that owned the place.
Strangely enough movie stars came to eat there, among them Paul Newman, who my mom could not resist from asking for an autographed picture, got turned down and then was so apologetic that he ended up having a conversation with her anyway. I find it funny how my mom had carved a space out of this essay. It didn’t start out that way.
The restaurant closed when the owner got old. It was that simple. We were given the lithograph. We cherish it.
There are some pictures that I don’t want anymore, but I know that losing them will cast them into a state of oblivion. So, I adjust. I’m smiling as I think about the absurdity of adjusting oblivion.
Over our bed hangs an oil painting called the Statuary. It depicts a garden in back of a villa in France. The Garden is in bloom. One white statue of a young female stands in the midst of it. Cumulus white clouds below a blue sky- I have spent hours there. I dream on it.
I never wanted photographs of family members on the walls. But then I was given an image on wood of my Aunt Dotty. She was a flapper. I had collected two images of flappers, but I saw my aunt in the face and imagined her doing the Charleston and Black Bottom. I saw her as art. So now there are photographs of relatives.
I love the work of Itzchak Tarkay. As a boy, he was sent to a concentration camp. He painted images of the women he saw there, closed their eyes, dressed them in finery and placed them in salons. He said that he was painting them into a better world. I embrace the idea of creating a better world.
So many pictures to adjust; it feels like there should be an eternity for that.