Interpreting Wink


Wink :: 1980-1981

When I think back, I realize that many of my paintings from college were figurative paintings—as in the human figure. I didn't think of myself as a figurative painter then, or do I now, but there were often figures in my work and sometimes they were the focus of the painting. Some of my strongest work was figurative—but I still don't think about them that way. I'm not particularly good at drawing the figure and very rareIy have that in mind. However, just a couple of years ago I did participate in a life drawing class—once a week in the evening for about eight weeks, with maybe 10-15 other folk—super casual. I think they took donations at the door to pay the facilitator and the model. I drew men and women on large pads of newsprint with charcoal, graphite and chalk. During the course of the two-hour session we'd get to draw ten to twelve poses, with a range of 1 to 30 minutes.  Over the course of the session, I came out with one or two drawings that were interesting. The rest were fire starter.

Whenever I've played Pictionary over the years and was required to draw a figure, human or animal, they were chaotic scribbles that took me forever. My teammates usually just stared at me in disbelief. "I'd need to be a clairvoyant to guess what you're drawing." On the other hand, the figures my father drew were crisp and clear. He always captured the action quickly and precisely. "It's a person raking the yard, um... it's a guy with an erection... it's a man watering the lawn!"

Wink was a painting I did in undergraduate school. Somehow it turned into a head-and-shoulders-type-portrait—it was stylized, simple and abstract. It wasn't a very good painting, but I treated the figure in a way I never had before, so I'd always held on to it for posterity. I used oil and latex on a piece of 36" x 30" masonite. I shipped it home from my parents' basement in Montana years ago. It had been in storage for at least twenty-five years. Once it arrived in Minneapolis, I unpacked it and leaned it against a wall in our living room. It remained there for a couple of weeks before my wife said anything. Eventually she asked me what the painting was about. A fair question. I was surprised by it, though. I wasn't surprised because she asked a question, but because of the question she asked. I assumed the image was so obvious that it would be hard to interpret it any other way. In fact that was the primary reason I disliked it. It felt limiting. When I told her what it was she said she still didn't really see it. Maybe. Kinda? I was surprised again because that probably meant most people didn't immediately read it that way. I was relieved too. It kind of changed everything. It reminded me to relax about what I think I'm painting and what others might think I'm painting because I can't really control it and the what doesn't really matter, just that I'm painting.

© C. Davidson