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Finding my Northstar in an Unusual Place

                                           

 



 

 

                       I had ignored my mother’s advice and was dating a man more beautiful than me. It was 2000, I was recently divorced, in my 30’s, and dating a handsome, elegant restaurateur. My mother offered her advice in a roundabout way. Being British we didn’t really practice direct communication, but the phrase would echo in my ears for years to come.  I ignored her, and only twenty years later, after she had passed, could I admit, she was probably right.

                In the late 1980’s I was living in Vermont. I lived on the top floor of a small barn. It was heaven. I had a bed on the floor on one side with a pink duvet, and on the other side a desk where I made artwork. I played Edie Brickell and the New Bohemians on repeat.  I had an Australian boyfriend named Tim who was a carpenter. He would take hot baths in my bathtub and read novels, and something about this was comforting and familiar from my British childhood. Whenever I was distressed about something as a child, my mother’s remedy was always “Take a hot bath darling.” It was the remedy for all the ills of the world. I had a cat I named Indigo, and Tim insisted on calling Bob. Tim made us tuna melts. He liked to say “We’re here for a good time dahlin,  not for a long time.”

        In that small barn in Vermont I gestated my adult self. Small steps, fledlging movements. I left my parent’s house, perched high up on a hill in the same town. I left their disintegrating marriage,  I lived in the village, I worked for my landlord renovating homes. I sanded floors. I met the Aussie guy. I would make art, listening to my music into the night. I took my first awkward steps to being an artist. Like an ugly baby goose, making sometimes ugly baby goose art. Do you remember those times when you first heard your own baby voice whispering to you? You maybe don’t recognize it at the time. But those days in my own sweet space, I see now I was hearing my self for the first time. It wasn’t easy. It was messy. It was mixed up in a lot of depression, I was excavating. My daughter has her own place right now. Her first apt all to herself. I love the sweet feeling there. …it really only happens once. That first apt. I want to tell her, stay here as long as you can. Find as much of you as you can. It just gets more complicated as life, and the house gets bigger. Keep it small and simple, for as long as possible. Let yourself have your own space for as long as possible.

      I was living in Vermont when I found a Vanity Fair article on Susan Rothenberg and Bruce Nauman. They had recently married, and Susan R had left New York City to go live in Galisteo, New Mexico with Bruce. I carefully cut the article, and all the photos out, and glued it into my 8x10 black drawing notebook, the kind I used all the time then, for journaling and drawing. Everything in that article made my cells sing. New Mexico, the oranges and pinks of Susan’s paintings, the horses Bruce trained, their ranch where they had studios. I didn’t know exactly what I was feeling, but I did know that there was so much in those pages that made me come alive. Susan R’s colors and the way she moved paint made me want to make art like no other artist ever had. I wanted to move paint like that. I wanted to live like that. I wanted desert, and horses, and art, and a cowboy.

            Fast forward to 2000. The restaurateur I am dating is a cowboy and is good friends with Bruce Nauman. On one of our early dates, I jump into his white ford truck and we drive out to Galisteo at dusk.  It is a summers evening that feels like it will last  for a long time. We drive up to the gate which has the ranch brand on it, but in every other way is inconspicuous. We drive down a long driveway, past a yak, and horses grazing on either side of us. We pull up to a low ranch building. A chorus of dogs greet us, barking. The house is unassuming and blends easily into the landscape. We’re greeted by a man in jeans and cowboy boots on the front steps that turns out to be Bruce. We join them for dinner at their long ranch house style dining table. There is a lot of whisky. I remember Bruce talking about cooking for his kids when they were young, and how he was a master of the one pot meal. Both he and my partner are from the Midwest. Bruce has a kindness and ease to him that reminds me of other Midwesterners. He feels accessible, and human, not like what I imagine the foremost American conceptual artist would be like. Susan R drinks and smokes. Chainsmokes. She has the same birthday as my mother, also a chainsmoker, and there is something similar about them, an edge. She shows us the shards she has collected from the land. There was a native pueblo on their land. She collects the shards on her daily walks with her many dogs, and has put together some pots. Other shards are in museum style glass cases. My cowboy asks if we can see their studios. Every part of me tingles. First we walk into Bruce’s…it is a mess. There is no apparent order. Stuff is strewn everywhere. The two cowboys talk about the video Bruce is making at the moment of the mice in his studio. Then we go into Susan’s studio and I am paralyzed with excitement and pure pleasure. Huge canvases are stretched across the wall. Her color palette sets me on fire. There is the delicious smell of oil paint and turpentine. There is an old comfy armchair in the middle of the room, with a pile of books next to it. She says they are mysteries. She often reads in her studio. She will spend a long day in there, but some of it will be reading mysteries. She says its important to be in the studio, even if she is reading. She talks about an upcoming show she has at Sperone Westwater , about her dealer flying out to see the work, and how the paintings will be shipped out soon.  I can’t believe I am there.

         After dinner we walk out into the land. Some of their horses have had babies in the last few days. We walk out to find the babies. I am here, in New Mexico, with baby horses, learning to walk. I am my newly divorced baby self, with a cowboy who brought me to the ranch of the artist who made me want to paint. I am standing on their land, surrounded by their horses.


Susan Rothenberg with a foal

Galisteo, NM 2001


              I didn’t know what I was doing when I cut out that article so many years ago. I just knew it felt important, and I wanted to be reminded of what was in those pages. I didn’t know it was a northstar, somehow guiding me here to this land, and this moment.

 

 

 

 

 

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I get lost in your writing as soon as I begin. Such lyric beauty and clarity in your words. Immediately transported!

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Dove in to read as soon as I saw that you posted some thing. Now I want to let you know how deeply touched I am, and yet I feel so in touch with my tender baby self with all those dreams that all I know how to say right now is… thank you.


I am awash in the beauty and the love and the tenderness of your words

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