Saturday, August 11, 2012

Possum Painted

Possum loves art and knows a lot about it. He not only knows what he loves, he loves what he knows. In other words, he's rather full of himself and his knowledge. That's normal, I suppose. Many highly educated people are not so different from Possum, although he is mostly self-taught. At least his strong opinions are entirely his own. And he keeps up with his studies. He regularly applies himself to his subject — usually very directly, by lying on whatever book I have open.

Possum's biggest scholarly challenge, as I see it, is that the Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History means almost nothing to him. Cats have a very different understanding of time and history than people do, although they never want to explain it. (I think the Timeline is a magnificent thing because my pal Clark and I once tried to make a similar timeline on a classroom chalkboard very late one night at Swarthmore, and it nearly killed us.) Possum thinks historical timelines are not important. "Why?" he says, "We can see everything right here, right now on our laptops. Everyone likes to look backwards, and great artists are ahead of their time, as you say. So who cares when something arrived? It's here! Let's have fun with it!" He also doesn't make distinctions between living and dead artists. For reasons I don't understand, he thinks this is irrelevant.

But it's not irrelevant if you wander around talking about how you will be painted by John Singer Sargent someday. "As soon as he meets me, we will become great friends, and he will insist that I pose," says Possum, who thinks it's just a matter of time before Mr. Sargent comes barreling in here with his easel and a palette.

Sargent's 1906 self-portrait, in the Uffizi Gallery.
Possum realizes that he might look a bit older today.

I try to be understanding. I think that Sargent is on Possy's mind because of our recent writing project, which involved deciphering, or decoding, some of Mr. Sargent's handwritten letters. We received copies from the MFA's archives. We were very excited, and I was pleased to discover that I am good at deciphering JSS's surprisingly awful handwriting. (In my youth, I worked for a team of architects, and their handwriting was worse than any doctor's. And they couldn't spell; as I recall, one of them couldn't be counted on for even one-syllable words like "there." Nothing scribbled on a page can scare me now.)

Anyway, I believe that Mr. Sargent deliberately cultivated his illegible scrawl as an act of compassion. When I told Possum my theory, he instantly got it. "Of course!" he said. "He's a charming man, thoughtful toward his friends. It would help them to believe that, even if he is a genius with a brush, a charcoal stick, and a pencil, he can't manage a pen to save his life. Given that he is extraordinarily handsome and cultivated — like me — and speaks many languages, and is a superb pianist on top of all that — as I am — they might be a little jealous of him otherwise." (Possum sings beautifully, it's true, but I have never heard him play the piano. But he says he can.)

Possy said, "Mr. Sargent's correspondents must feel a boost of self-esteem, knowing they can do at least one thing better than he can. But his letters must also drive them crazy, since they might as well be hen scratches. They must wish he had a texting plan. Maybe we should get him one?"


This letter is more legible than some of ours were.

Since Possum liked my theory, I treated him to a few samples of what I thought his Sargent portrait might look like. He hopes to be painted sitting in his bicycle rickshaw, because Sargent has never painted anyone in a bicycle rickshaw as far as we know. I pointed out that Possum doesn't yet own a bicycle rickshaw and, before he could become morose about that, I reminded him that Mr. Sargent usually dictated how his sitters posed, and what they wore. Then I showed him my Photoshop handiwork. He was pleased with this watercolor effect, which he thought conveyed his seriousness.


I know the rather languishing image below is too large for this layout, but it's Possum's favorite, and he wanted it to be BIG so you could see my canvas texture effect and "bravura brushwork of his left leg and toe fur." He thinks it's "really Sargenty, most exquisite in subject matter and execution." As I mentioned, he has a high opinion of himself. And I have to agree with him. He's only 3 years old and he's come a long way; he has plenty of time to grow intellectually. The art historical timeline may come to mean more to him.





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