Last week I walked around a San Francisco art gallery with an artist friend. An abstract painter, Kimetha had a solo show of small oils on wood. As I admired her images, I thought about how different we were as painter and writer.
As a word person, I immediately reached for words to explain my reactions to her pieces. They remind me of bright summer light, I told her, and the movement of a slight breeze through curtains or an open window.
She nodded politely. She doesn’t think about her paintings in that way. Her process, similar to a writer’s, involves putting work down and then erasing it. She might work on a painting for a year, layering color and then taking it away to let the underpainting shine through. She uses small brush strokes, tiny edges of color. She burnishes it and sands it, just as writers polish their work.
On that late spring afternoon, she had come to say good-bye to her paintings. The show closed the next day and most of her pieces were sold. For a year’s work on this painting, she will make a few hundred dollars. That’s another way she is similar to a writer, I thought.
Kimetha struggles to name her abstract paintings and leaves some untitled. For her, the words are an afterthought. For me, they are everything.