Saturday, November 5, 2016

Bucket List (In the Category of Say What You Mean)

“White. A blank page or canvas. His favorite. So many possibilities.” – A Sunday In the Park with George

Note the lovely purple border around the painting and the beautiful orange of the dress to the left.
I fell in love with the paintings of Georges Seurat as an undergrad in college, especially his most famous work, “A Sunday on the Isle of Le Grande Jatte.” His art came at me from two directions, probably because I was a double major at the time, in fine art and theater art. I first studied Georges in Art History – the technique of his – a palate of pure colors never mixed, a fine pointed brush, dots of each pure color placed closely together. The eye of the beholder mixes the colors, as Georges intended. There is no purple in the painting, only red dots next to blue dots. There is no orange either – only red paired with yellow, and the shaded grass is not a darker green than the sunlight grass. It just has brown dots carefully placed where the canopy of the park trees would, in the real world, cast a shadow.
Close Up of the Purple Border - Red and Blue Dots
The true composition of that orange dress.
A few months later, in acting class, my drama professor popped in a video of Stephen Sondheim’s Broadway musical: A Sunday in the Park with George. The tone of one clear trumpet sounded as the lights came up on the curtain, which was Seurat’s masterpiece. I watched with delight as my favorite painting came to life – a tableau vivant with the incomparable Bernadette Peters as “Dot,” George’s willing if inexperienced model, and Mandy Patinkin as George. Here was the essence of Seurat – not the painstaking technique, but the free-flowing imagination that his vision inspired in his beholders. When I learned that the painting lived in the United States, at the Art Institute of Chicago, to see the dots with my own eyes became a bucket list item.

Years passed…

My desire to see the painting never dwindled. If anything, it grew stronger. I believe it is a function of aging, the sense of urgency that creeps up as time slips away and the bucket list grows rather than diminishes. I graduated college (twice), found jobs to pay my way through the world, made a life for myself that has (I am blessed to say) lasted longer than Georges Seurat’s skimpy thirty-one years.

In April of this year, my boss asked me if I would be willing to work the November trade show in Chicago. I jumped at the chance and made my plans. My husband wanted to see the painting too – I had only made him sit through the musical about a dozen times, so it had meaning for him as well. We would fly a day earlier than I needed to be there, take a vacation day, and go straight to the museum as soon as the plane landed. No pussy-footing around…I would see the painting first, not save it for the end of the trip. (I’ve put off doing bucket list items before and been thwarted…a mistake I try never to repeat.)

We had not reckoned on the Chicago Cubs making it to the World Series. No one reckoned on that. As they came back from behind against the Cleveland Indians, it began to dawn on me: I would be in Chicago on the weekend, potentially, after the Cubs won the series for the first time in 108 years. And then it happened. The Cubs won in Game 7, in extra innings, after a rain delay. Chicago quickly laid plans for a massive celebratory parade. Five million additional people made their way to the Windy City to party.

And our plane touched down right into the thick of it. It was all we could do to get to our hotel. The streets on both sides of the hotel entrance were closed as they were part of the parade route. The end-of-parade rally was held in Grant Park, which is literally across the street from our Best Western. We had no hope of getting to the museum before it closed. Normally I fully support breaking 108 year droughts, but damn it! The painting!

But today…today…gentle reader, I still weep tears of joy at the memory of it six hours later. Today we arrived at the Art Institute shortly after it opened. We ascended the grand staircase and made our way to the Impressionists section. There it hung; I could see each painstakingly applied red dot next to each as carefully placed blue dot on a beautiful purple flower in a hat that my eyes mixed to see black but was not. I walked up to it, uncaring of any photo opps I ruined for others. This was my painting, my moment with it. Tears flowed freely down my cheeks, and I felt no shame for them. It was more beautiful than I had imagined. Indeed, no photo does the painting justice. Georges had, in the words of the musical, met the challenge.

“…Bring order to the whole Through design, composition, tension, balance, light, and harmony.”

Bucket list: Check!
Tears glisten in the corners of my eyes. Tears of joy.
Next item, that trip to Hawaii I’ve always wanted to take. Maybe there will be a trade show…

No comments:

Post a Comment