Updated: May 30, 2020
I remember my first visit to an artist’s studio. It was the early 90’s, my Mercer University painting professor drove me to Barnesville, Georgia, for a visit with Herb Creecy. Globs of dry paint, work clothes on a nail, canvases stacked like monstrous cd cases on racks- That did it, my fate was sealed, and in the age before Google I started looking into MFA programs. Something about that space- it did not so much tell me where to be, but what I ought to be doing.
MFA accomplished, I returned to Macon and soon got my own studio. 1,300 square feet in 6 rooms on the second floor of nearly empty three-story brick building in downtown. No heat, no air, sketchy electricity, a somewhat functional bathroom, high ceilings… it was paradise. Over the next couple of decades I did hundreds of pieces, worked for thousands of hours, hosted scores of open studio events, and I painted and I painted and I painted. A couple years ago the building sold and I moved out. By that time you could put your hands around a wall in that space, twist it up like a wet wash cloth, and you’d wring out some sort of pure funky creative potion that was part soul and sweat, part bourbon and acrylic polymer. It was pure magic.
I’m in a new space, relatively speaking. Third floor this time, still no air or heat, but I have hot water. It is downtown, it is well over a hundred years old. I was anxious, not naïve to how important it was to have a studio that was efficient, well lit, properly decked out with walls and equipment. This time honest to god electricians were involved, and real plumbers. A summer in Macon hauling sheet rock, fabricating walls and a bathroom, lugging all the stuff to and from, was a sweaty ordeal. And after all that work and investment there is no guarantee magic would come home to roost.
And you can’t intend magic. Studio life is get the hell to work life.
During this time of Coronavirus, it should be known that quarantine life is studio life. Artists have been self-isolating for untold centuries. It is lonely.
A studio is many things; it is an operating room with cad red dripping on the floor.
It is a light house, peering carefully at the horizon for what approaches and vigilant as to shallows and hazards beneath the surface of things.
It is a sacristy, a monk’s cell, a fire watch tower…
And it is my grandfather’s workshop tucked into the side of the Blue Ridge Mountains, the smell of Craftsman tools, dust and metal shavings on a work bench amid a half-finished project, a scene pinned to a coffee cup and hung by a Virginia creeper peeking through the window.
I’m painting. There is always time spent managing the space, but I am back to where I was before the move with how much time I spend making art. Magic is not my concern, I’m more worried about where I put my charcoal. I’m doing what I ought to be doing.