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Notes Scraps and Threads

illustrated journal life as an artist parc andr├ę citro├źn Oct 14, 2022
note clipped to painting

October 14, 2022 - A Journey Through Space and Time - Part III

In June of 2010, I acquired the entire contents of Betty Stroppel's studio and her inventory of framed paintings.  Betty introduced me to the joy of watercolors in 1978 when my living conditions made painting in oil difficult.  Though our styles and our intentions were always quite different, we inspired and encouraged one another with both love and respect.

As I make progress sorting through decades and piles of papers and boxes of "stuff" in both my studio and office, I find all sorts of notes, sketches, scraps and photos that trigger memories and a greater awareness of significant threads ever-present through the many stages in my life, both as a human being and as an artist. Yesterday I found this sketch of Betty's with her note still clipped to it, "finish when Heading Home is sold". 

"Why wait?" I wondered.  On the back of the sketch was another, similar sketch that hadn't yet had any watercolor applied to it.

So many unanswered questions.  If you look carefully at the pencil sketch on the back, you might see an indication of a figure in boat.

Over the years Betty and I had many discussions regarding painting figures.  Rarely did Betty include figures in her paintings.  After so many conversations on the topic, I assumed that Betty simply had no interest in painting figures.  Only after her lifetime of sketchbooks lay piled upon my floor and I started exploring their pages did I realize how wrong I may have been.  At least a half dozen sketchbooks were filled with sketches of figures, notes scribbled on the pages expressing her frustration with what she considered her inability to tackle the figure.  Yet she kept at it, page after page after page ... until finally she gave in to the judgement she had made on her ability to represent figures in her paintings.  There were no more figurative sketches to be found in the sketchbooks that followed, nor in paintings.

And ... Why was this painting put on hold until her painting Heading Home was sold?

How do these questions relate to my experience in Parc André Citroën in 2021 and my experience there in 2022?  Why did reading the note clipped to her sketch immediately send me back to the park where I found myself standing on the raised wooden walkway staring at a single tree, imprisoned in a glass cubicle, the revolving door securely fastened with lock and chain? The answer is to be found woven into this past July's walk through the park. In an earlier blog post I left you at the point where I had just entered the park.

 quoted from my journal dated July 11, 2022 ...

"The sun shone brightly as I stepped into the park  Already, it was vastly different. It was populated.  The sound of voices filled the air - a bike sped by me.  Couples walked toward the exit - already their attention was out of the park and on their next destination. No one looked at the monuments of steps that lined the path on either side,  The steps were smaller than I remembered, and less steep.  Ignored by all, save me - they were diminished - no longer ominous.  Having lost their power, they had shrunk.  I was of two minds, the PRESENT and the PAST.  I still have many lessons to learn from those monuments and the power they hold for me ... that they still hold ... if only for me. 

It was impossible not to smile. The park was so different and so the same.  People were everywhere, in every nook and cranny. Not that it was overly populated, it wasn't.  It was pleasantly populated. Last year it had been deserted.

Just passed the cement step garden, I slipped through a passageway into the maze of vines and slightly manicured hedges.

I explored parts of the park I hadn't seen before.  Everything felt tame. Again, I smiled.  I was totally prepared for this lovely yet less-than-magical experience.  Children filled the various play areas, friends gathered and picnicked on the grass, lovers caressed in the shadows.  People read, sunned, exercised and strolled.  In a few areas, water flowed.  There had been no water flowing last year.  The floral gardens were shades of violets.  It appeared to be less cared for.  There were far more weeds than last year.

There area I hadn't explored last year was the entire left side of the park when the giant glass houses were behind me, the side that appeared to be lined with bunkers.  The bunkers turned out to be three-sided structures of nothing.  One had a metal staircase that provided a higher view of the park.  The reflecting pools were empty and filled with weeds.  The circles of lights appeared to be forever turned off.  How magnificent they must have looked before the weeds replaced the reflecting pools.

The reflections in water have been replaced by an outrageously large and convoluted glass building adjacent to and outside of the park. It is fabulous!!! The building looked empty in that I saw no one walking about the plaza that wove its way through the giant structure of glass.

Surely the world's largest funhouse. Spectacular!!! I'm intrigued. It's the highlight of this year's trip to Parc André Citroën.  Not surprising to me that it's "outside" of the park.

In less than an hour I was satisfied with the time spent in the park and was at peace to leave.  The two most memorable experiences were the giant mirror building and the illusion of an intricate glass sculpture in a glass case near a playground filled with children.  The light reflected off the delicate strands of glass and I wanted a closer look.  Perhaps the building just beyond it was a museum that I had the good fortune to stumble upon.

The sculpture turned out to be a bullet hole surrounded by a sheet of shattered glass, the cracks catching the light and appearing like delicate threads suspended beautifully around a central sphere.  What I had imagined to be a museum turned out to be public toilets.

Hmmmmmm.  What would it be like --- how would it feel to create the sculpture I thought I saw, or to paint the paintings I thought I would see at Galerie d'Art de P'art King? (that's another story). That is what many artists do, isn't it?  They make imagined visions real.  Inventors do that.  If it can be imagined it can be expressed in one way or another.

I left the park satisfied, not at all disappointed.  There's no need to return, though I'm sure I will.  The other park, the magical Parc André Citroën of August 2021, is inside of me and it's the place I visit daily to work in, to contemplate, to meditate and to simply be me ... to discover and rediscover who I am."

Perhaps Betty stopped attempting to find a technique of drawing figures that suited her, not because it was too hard or because she felt she couldn't do it, but because she discovered that she didn't WANT to include figures in her paintings.  I would like to think that this were the case.  I can accept the absence of figures both in her paintings and sketchbooks because of an acknowledgement of the wants and desires of her inner artist after realizing that her art is aways more genuine and more significant when she is true to her inner artist.  I cannot so easily accept her having given up on something she desired to accomplish in her lifetime as an artist.  She attained so many of her other goals including becoming a member of AWS (American Watercolor Society). Am I now speaking of Betty or am I speaking of myself?

The note ... Why was finishing her painting contingent upon selling a different painting?  Why does this note touch me so deeply inside?  Perhaps because at times I, too, have limited myself from moving forward by creating my own stipulations to be met before giving myself permission to freely play and experiment on paper and canvas.  I give the shoulds more power than they warrant. The shoulds sometimes become an impenetrable barrier or one that is believed to be impenetrable.

At some point in my life, very early on, I created such a barrier that I was only able to break through in 2021 in Parc André Citroën.  I'm still unraveling the mystery and magic of that afternoon stroll.  I may never find the why or the when I created that barrier.  I may never understand how or why I found myself on the other side of that barrier after the dream-like stroll through the park. It doesn't matter.  What matters is that I am aware that when I walked out of the park in 2021, I had experienced a significant awakening and that there was no turning back. Nor did I or do I wish to turn back.

Already, I'm sensing another barrier ahead.  This time I look forward to either climbing over it or blasting my way through. I'm confident that it won't take another fifty years to do so ... I haven't that many years ahead of me.  I'm counting on thirty.  I wonder how many ideas and projects I can avoid putting off "until Heading Home is sold".

I'm grateful for the guidance, encouragement and inspiration that Betty continues to gift to me through the scraps, notes, sketches and paintings she left behind.  They shed light on the important threads that are woven through the strongest and most exquisite fabric of my life.

Thank you for reading my blog.

Chris Carter



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