Wednesday, July 2, 2008

The Painting's Edge: Day 1

I'm still playing catch-up, here on The Buddha Diaries. Elllie and I had a memorable weekend in Idyllwild at the annual residency program called "The Painting's Edge"--the brainchild of its director, the artist Roland Reiss. Roland and his wife Dawn Arrowsmith are old friends; I borrowed an image from Roland for the cover of my second novel, "Dirty-Down"--a title he also helped me find (it's what you do to a forgery to make it look old). The program invites some thirty-five painters to a working retreat at the Idyllwild School for Music and the Arts in this lovely mountain resort, along with a generous and distinguished list of visiting artists and writers who lecture and offer slide shows in the evening and critique sessions for the residents during the day. Each participant is allotted a space to work in the big communal studios, so it's a great opportunity not only for intensive work but also for the kind of communal support that artists often lack.

(This is hard. A very disruptive day. Plumbers, electricians, carpenters... The water has been off, the electric cut, there are loud voices everywhere, the sounds of drills and hammers. The demolition is still in progress, the reconstruction barely begun. Bear with me. Back to the mountain...)

We made the long trip from Laguna to the mountain top on Saturday afternoon, arriving in time for lunch and a stroll around the village center--very touristy these days--and a nap in the shady room that had been reserved for us at the Idyllwild Inn. Then a short drive to the edge of town, where the campus buildings are nestled in amongst the rocky outgrowths and pine groves, an ideal setting for a quiet retreat. The lectures were scheduled to begin at 7PM, and people started gathering around 6:30 for a glass of wine and snacks outside the lecture hall. We met up with Roland and Dawn, and Peter Plagens, painter and art critic for Newsweek magazine, and another old friend from his Los Angeles days, back in the 1970s. He gave my first novel, "Chiaroscuro," a generous review in Art In America, and was scheduled to give the keynote speech the following evening; his wife, the artist Laurie Fendrich, who also blogs for The Chronicle of Higher Education at Brainstorm; and Micaela Amato, the artist with whom I was to share the evening's podium; and her husband, the artist Don Schule.

Micaela kicked the evening off with a spirited slide show and introduction to her work, and I was delighted that many of her themes dovetailed very nicely with those I was to be discussing in my own presentation in the next half-hour. As readers of The Buddha Diaries will already be aware, I had awaited this occasion with considerable anxiety: it's not something I enjoy, to be out in front of an audience of listeners--at least until I get there. But as you'll understand if you've taken a look at the text of my lecture, linked here in the right sidebar, I put a great deal of work and thought into its preparation, so I need not have worried. My contribution was very well received, with perceptive questions and friendly comments and, the following day, with enthusiasm on the part of many of the residents.

We ended the evening with a hearty dinner for the speakers and hosts at the gnomically named Gastronome restaurant in the village: food, wine, and a wonderful opportunity to catch up with old friends and get acquainted with new ones.

More on The Painting's Edge tomorrow. I'm hoping for a quieter morning than today...

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