Sunday, July 17, 2005

Man Loses Keys

On my skateabout today, I stopped for a moment at the swamp. I love to sit quietly in nature to see which creatures will reveal themselves. On my approach, I only scared away some of the smaller, yellow-spotted frogs; two large bullfrogs remained in my little corner of the swamp, their bodies half-submerged, bulbous eyes peering over the top of the water at the dance of insects through the fronds. There was also a turtle sitting on a log, a ways off over the water. A few birds came by, and all the dragonflies: big, lumbering red ones; little, darting blue ones; and smaller, agile green-striped ones. The dragonflies make a terrific racket as they fly through the underbrush: nature's helicopters. Two of the striped ones started mating, dangling upside down from a thin branch, and their arching tails made an inverted heart shape.

It was quite muggy and humid today, almost tropical. I did some skating at the deserted tennis courts, attempting, unsuccessfully, to land some frontside varial kickflips. These days, when learning a new, seemingly impossible trick, I just remind myself of ollie fingerflips. They also seemed impossible, but now I can land them--once in a while. It was so hot, despite the thin cloud covering, that I had to stop every few minutes to rest. My shirt and hat were thoroughly drenched by the time I called it quits.

On the wall of my parent's spare bedroom is a painting I did about ten years ago, when I considered myself first and foremost a visual artist. Sometimes I still get nostalgic for brushes and paint, but I don't have the space to set up an easel. The painting my parent's have is probably my best one. A girl I used to know--a free-spirited theatre type who broke the hearts of a couple of my friends--wanted badly to buy it. I haven't heard from this person in years, but the painting is still here, and I'm glad I didn't sell it.

It's funny how art can be prophetic. This canvas is about 2'-by-1 1/4' and is a cartoonish depiction of a suburban wasteland. While there is an overall sense of harmony created by the elements of the picture, the environment itself is depicted as jagged, sharp and aggressive. The rocks on the ground are sharp little pyramids, and the sky, due to a cubist treatment, is serrated and harmful looking. A red and orange sun glares down on the scene sending sharp shadows across the bare, beige ground. There are two pieces of flora, a tree and a shrub, which are somehow holding their own in the midst of the arid environment. In the background are the silhouettes of several high-rise apartments breaking an otherwise barren horizon line.

The central (and only) figure in the painting is a stick man: tottering on two stick-legs, and held up in his precarious position by a third, Daliesque, brace or post. The man is shaped like a lollypop, and looks like he is about to fall over backwards. A brown, UFO-shaped hat is suspended in the air just above his head. Behind the man is an elbow-shaped pipe or smokestack, out of the top of which some kind of funnel cloud or whirlwind is issuing. The stick man has an appendage on his side suggesting an open pocket, out of which a key appears to be falling--or perhaps it is being sucked into the vortex created by the pipe/smokestack. It is this dramatic feature of the painting that lends it its title: Man Loses Keys.

The central conceit of the work--one that I didn't even notice until it had been completed--is that while the figure in the painting is in the process of losing his keys--having them sucked out of his pocket, as it were, by a confluence of human and natural forces represented by the smokestack and vortex--he himself is shaped somewhat like a big key.

I have been looking at this painting in a new light this summer. The picture depicts a barren, aggressive environment somehow robbing civilized man of his keys. Maybe I'm just getting older, but the sun seems hotter and more difficult to bear for long periods these days. The uncharacteristic heat wave we've been suffering may just be an aberration, a blip on the weather charts, or it might be yet another sign of dramatic changes in the global climate.

I have heard that even if we were to drastically cut back on carbon dioxide and other harmful emissions--a step that the leading polluters on the North American continent are reluctant to take--the chemicals already in the air will take about one hundred years to break down. Since we can pretty much count on our not taking action until it is too late, it seems clear that coming generations will be the inheritors of a dramatically compromised, unpredictable, and likely dangerous global climate.

I was weaned on sci-fi stories and movies, so my consciousness is implanted with the idea that humanity will somehow persevere through the coming cataclysms, though the society in which we live may be radically altered. I, personally, see a new kind of damp in the very near future, and likely a new kind of dry as well; but who really knows? What the painting I made for myself suggests, with its central figure of a bewildered, tottering man shaped like a key, is that the resources needed for our continuing survival in the new environment are to be found not so much in all our dazzling array of scientific and technological knowledge, but within.

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