The smell of oil paints fills me with longing. The last time I used them it was twenty years ago. My “intermediate painting” teacher brought us outside for our final class – a Springtime treat.
Before that, my work had been clumsy and hesitant and indoors. I always had trouble with yellows despite, or because of, a previous teacher’s obsession with yellow ochre. She felt it glowed. But this painting of that grey and brown chiseled facade of a chapel, was better. It was confident, carefree, weighty.
When I brought the painting back to my college (my school did not offer “intermediate painting” but nonetheless required it for advanced painting) my adviser, also a painting teacher, declared it a breakthrough.
Pleased with myself and with the painting, I set it in the art building to dry. Sometime over that weekend, it was stolen. I have not seen it since.
Was it really very good? Whoever took it left everything else — the dull still lifes and awkward self-portraits including the one which inspired my yellow-ochre-obsessed-professor to say; “That doesn’t look like your hair, it looks more like a lump of shit on your head.” It was a harsh, but not inaccurate description. She may have also suggested that yellow ochre would make it look less turdish.
Whoever stole my breakthrough left the shit-hair painting for me to keep.
Where did the stolen oil painting go? Did the thief hang it on the wall? Did he or she claim it as his or her own in an art class faraway? (What kind of plan is that?) Did an unknown enemy toss it in a dumpster? Is it hanging somewhere right now? If I saw it now, would I recognize it? Would I be disappointed?
I probably would. In my head it is a small masterpiece. Not a Rembrandt, but perhaps worthy of John Singer Sargent on an off-day. My “intermediate” teacher thought that perhaps architectural painting might be my calling.
“It’s really fantastic.” she said, as I removed it from my easel and put the paints away.
Perhaps she was the thief?
I have not painted with oils since. I loved oils best, but they are expensive and require excellent ventilation. Besides, with my photography and my movie, my writing and my music, where would I find the time?