Back when I was Kandinsky

Even as a child I never wanted to be anything but an artist. My most vivid childhood memories are of getting art supplies. When I was around six my grandfather gave me a little pan set of watercolors and a brush, with a little lecture about how an artist always takes care of his materials. I thought, how does he know I’m an artist? About a year later my parents gave me a set of tempera paints in little glass jars. I asked if these were oil paints. They said I would have to wait a few years more for oils. They came first in a paint by numbers set with tiny tubes of oils. They didn’t give you more than you needed. First one I actually painted within the lines. Then came all kinds of crafty stuff. Woodburning set. Ouch! Indian sand painting set. Think I gave myself silicosis with that one. Bird woodcarving set. Plastic clay sets. Plaster molding sets. Mosaic sets. Soon as I was old enough to go downtown on the el, the Junior School at the Chicago Art Institute. Drawing classes, only semi-nekkid ladies tho. Drawing in the museum galleries. Drawing in the Natural History museum. Metal sculpture, soldering copper and brass. Making things from hardwoods. Clay sculpture. Plaster sculpture. Early teens I was obsessed with making clay, semi-abstract faces, massive ones that required a lot of trips to the clay bins. You couldn’t fire them, because the student clay had too much old plaster in it. I didn’t care or bother to dry them like most of the other kids did. I just threw my heads back in the bins after the classes. But I knew what I wanted to do. Masks. At least in my mind. Finally turned fifteen and a learner’s driving permit, which I sort of mistook for a regular license. Drove mom’s ‘56 Chevy Bel Air to Hines Lumber and bought the biggest thing I could figure a way to get home. A four by eight foot sheet of tempered masonite, tied to the roof through all the windows. My plan was to be Kandinsky, in his most rigidly geometric style. I had been drawing this kind of thing in charcoal for years. And I finally had real oil paints. I got the sheet of masonite into my small room, where it took up the entire floor. And sketched out my painting, which was like a zillion triangles. Hell, I was only fifteen, what did I know? Mostly primary colors, but very neat. Hard at work one evening, my parents are throwing a party downstairs, which always involved serious amounts of liquor. One of the ladies appears at my door, high heels and fairly snockered (remember, my entire floor is occupied by a very large, wet oil painting). Before I can stop her she heads enthusiastically toward me and skids the entire length of my Kandinsky. She was terribly sorry, and I also remember her telling me something very inappropriate about her life being blighted because she was very flat-chested. But I already knew the life of an artist would not be easy and usually led to poverty and insanity. And soon I disovered that the really great Kandinskys weren’t those geometrics, they were his wildest, craziest paintings. - Michael Lipsey