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Cooking a Painting

Cooking Up A Painting
By Linda Cala
            My father loved to cook. Making a meal to him was like creating a piece of artwork. He would read cookbooks like novels and sit in his garage with a stogie dreaming up recipes that “jazzed”him up. Then he would plan in his head all the things he would need: olive oil, garlic, eggplant, sauce, etc. Then he’d figure out where the best deals were in town to get his ingredients.
            Olive oil was like his turpentine. It was always on the shelf because it was an essential. Garlic he grew himself. The eggplant had to be “just right”: the deep rich purple color, firm to the touch and not too big or it won’t be sweet enough. Only the best, which usually meant a trip to the public market where he bartered with the farmers.
            The farmers always needed bags to put shoppers’ produce and purchases in. So, my dad would save all the paper bags from the grocery store that my mom got during the week. And then on the weekends, he’d have enough to bring to the market and exchange them for that perfect eggplant.
            After he got all his ingredients, he’d lay everything out on the table like a palette and begin his preparation. The cooking could take hours or even days. One day for cleaning and soaking. Another for the actual frying, baking or roasting. Then a few hours to let it all marinate. Then he’d have us set the table with all the necessities: silverware, napkins, glasses, grated cheese, salad, dressing, butter and hot plates. Then he’d bring the cooked components to the table: mashed potatoes, steamed veggies, salads, roasted chestnut stuffing and a steaming casserole dish of sauce sizzling, cheese-melting eggplant parmesan. A side of roast turkey or chicken, some form of cooked meat, and of course, pasta.
            With everything on the table, he’d pour himself a glass of wine, make sure He’d watch as we’d all pass the plates, one by one, until everyone had some of everything. As we ate, he’d listen for our critiques that came in the form of “mmms” and “ahhhs,” grinning as he heard our satisfaction.
            Painting is like this for me. Contemplating an idea out on my deck, sipping coffee. Studying books on application, color or composition. Sketching over and over, getting the line and form down. Then, the planning. The size and type of support. The palette of colors. Any new sticks or tubes of paint that need to be purchased, which requires that highly anticipated jaunt to the coveted art supply store in the city. The right brushes. Reference material.
            Then, it’s organizing my work space. Setting up the angle of the easel. Placing my chosen palette in position for easy access. Sketching the initial drawing and then laying down the underpainting. Sometimes that might be one day’s work. The next day, maybe the entire day applying the paint: laying in the lights, the darks, the mid-tones. Then, the details and the finishing touches.
            For me, this process of putting actual pigment to paper is unlimited in time.  When it’s completed to satisfaction it may then be framed, hung and presented for final showing. The feast. This is my offering, my eggplant Parmesan. And how it is consumed, and who likes what, is out of my hands. I’ve done the work. It rests now in the eyes of the beholder. All I can do now is sit back and let the viewer take it in.
            My father had a saying every time we began our meal. Sometimes we all said it with him like a prayer. “Everybody, eat slow and eat a lot.” Like my dad, I like to stand back and watch people take in all the work on the studio walls.  And like a meal, people take in the pieces they like, sometimes returning to one particular painting again for seconds or bringing someone over to sample a favored piece. It is then that I want to say out loud to everyone, “Look long! Look slow. Buy it up!”


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