Thursday, December 27, 2012

Sky Above the Clouds

by Drew Martin
This morning I was transported to another time and place while I was making silver dollar pancakes. The numerous, playful shapes and proximity to one another on the black pan reminded me of Georgia O'Keeffe's oil painting Sky Above the Clouds (top), which reminded me of a friend from college. My friend lived in a house perched on a bluff over the ocean and is one of a handful of people I had the pleasure of meeting, who truly live a charmed life.

One night this friend and her housemates had a party, which she invited me to, so I stopped by and ended up in her room looking at a print of Sky Above the Clouds IV, which hangs in The Art Institute of Chicago (bottom). It is the most abstracted of the series, in which the clouds are elongated, like Band Aids, and packed together, like cars in a traffic jam, but there is nothing negative about the scene. These clouds are wooly sheep grazing on air, swabs of cotton floating in space, and a sky full of unadultered thought bubbles.

What I remember most about the encounter was that my friend was really into the painting and I was not into it. Now, of course, I am. That night she was explaining to me why she liked it to win over my dislike, and then a big, blond and very tan surfer guy walked in, and I exited like a cold draft.

My friend studied a year abroad, in Italy, where she met and fell in love with a handsome, young Peruvian street musician. She stopped by the copy shop where I worked during my college days, to introduce him to me before they set off to start a life together. He had long, shiny black hair. She had golden locks. They looked good together and truly happy with each other. Now they live in the Andes and have three beautiful children. They have an inn and give tours of the region, including Machu Picchu.

I often think about  this painting, my friend, and that evening, but this morning, while standing over the warm skillet and looking out on a wintry landscape, I made the connection between her appreciation of the painting and a charmed life. What I did not like about the painting 20 years ago was that it was too nice, too sweet, and too romantic. I fought its positive vibe and desired something more challenging. I missed the point, and with that I missed out on many things.