Painting with Ink
Pauline Baynes (1922 - 2008):
Interior Decorating for the Artist
Interior Decorating for the ArtistWombat Droppings
by Ursula Vernon
So I've spent the past few days painting the library.
It wasn't always a library. Up until a month ago, it was a cluttered dining room in my boyfriend's house. Then I moved in. He's taking it very well, even knowing that my presence didn't just mean that there would be sex and clean dishes,* but also that the interior décor of his home would undergo a fairly radical shift.
The dining room needed to go. First of all, it was used AS a dining room once a year, at Thanksgiving. The rest of the time, it was basically a place to store martini glasses and dump paperwork. At the same time, there were books piling up in closets for lack of bookcases, and I was coming in with a personal book collection that composed more than two-thirds of my personal belongings by weight. Turning the useless dining room into a library/reading room was a logical solution.
More importantly -- perhaps most importantly -- the room was pink.
Very, very pink.
I took to calling it "uterus pink" because that was the only way I could express that uniquely gynecological color that the man's ex-wife had inflicted upon an innocent room. There was a reason that the room was never used for anything. Merely standing in it for a prolonged period of time would prompt ovulation. In men.
The color it has become is called "La Fonda Fiesta Blue" and it is an INTENSE blue, fairly light but very saturated.** Even with only two walls done, the entire room has changed character utterly. It is almost aggressively vivid, hot blue. I grin involuntarily walking down the hallway when I catch a glimpse of the painted walls. It is spectacular.
Home decorating may be a weird thing for an artist to talk about -- we're supposed to be above all that, I know. We’re Real Artists. We burn Martha Stewart in effigy. You can drive us back, hissing, merely by uttering the phrase "But does it match the sofa?" (OH GOD, IT’S LIKE KRYPTONITE!)
Still, here I am. I will make my terrible confession. Home decorating stuff? It's like porn for me, right down to the shame. I will watch bad interior decorating shows, even when I absolutely loathe the results (and dear god, so often, I loathe the results.) About the only thing that drives me screaming into the night is when they do the home-made art to match the sofa, by spray painting bundles of twigs or getting the homeowner to paint a painfully bad abstract or whatever. That still breaks me. I'm never getting past that one. Otherwise… yes. I do think about interior decorating far more than a Legitimate Artist probably should, by which I mean "at all, ever." Even if my own style might, at best, be called "E-bay Eclectic" and involves a lot of Barong masks and black bookcases from Target, even if I would sooner chew my own arm off than make a centerpiece out of anything,*** even if I once did an entire bathroom theme in monochromatic prints of copulating frogs…still. I feel dirty. (And not for the reason you’d think, given the frogs.)
Also, I hate chintz.
It would be nice to justify this sort of thing aesthetically -- to say that our surroundings influence our mood, which they do, and that if we make a space we enjoy living and working in, we're happier and better people. And that's probably true. God knows, after living in apartment after apartment with mandatory white walls, there are large parts of my brain that scream, Scarlett O'Hara-like, about never going color-hungry again. Still, I can't shake the nagging feeling that there is something terribly shallow about my devoting brain power to this sort of thing. Perhaps it's the transient nature of decorating -- nobody paints the dining room for the ages. Perhaps it's the yammering of my college art department, which has never quite settled in the back of my brain, that with the skills I possess, I ought to be doing something REAL and MEANINGFUL and not screwing around with something as trite as decorating. (Mind you, that yammering isn't much impressed with me drawing hamsters, either.) Perhaps it's the feeling that the minute you buy something deliberately to match something else, you've skidded a few feet down a slippery slope that ends with seasonal slip covers and holiday-themed soaps in the guest bathroom and… I don’t know, centerpieces and whatever.
I don't know.
I do know that, for whatever reason, grabbing the roller and rolling out a broad swath of intense blue across a wall roughly primed with white over gruesome uterine pink is deeply, immensely satisfying. And despite all my decorating guilt, that feeling is, on some level, much the same feeling that keeps me painting -- a sort of jittery conviction, way down in the pit of my stomach, that I am making the world a more beautiful place.
And that, even if Martha Stewart would say it, is a good thing.
# # #
* Ever since I moved into an apartment with a dishwasher, the sheer glee of Not Having To Do The Dishes has never left. The day may come when I take the dishwasher for granted, but it's been about seven years, and it hasn't happened yet.
** Kevin picked it out. I felt this was for the best, since if all went ill at some point in the future, he wouldn't be stuck with a room in a color he hated. Again. I was, however, very pleased with it, since I collect Fiestaware and it's EXACTLY the color of one of my bowls.
***Martha Stewart probably knows how to make a centerpiece out of a severed arm and several festive gourds.
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