Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The taste of childhood

The taste of childhood. 14"×11", Oil on linen, September 2012

I set up this still life arrangement one summer morning with no particular idea in mind, apart from that I needed a plain direct painting experience to keep me going -- and since we seem to have had a summer outrageously good for tomatoes, it would be nice to reflect this in my "diary" of impressions.

I've set up it close to the easel, so as to look from above, and as I began painting, the smell of tomatoes overwhelmed me with a memory from the last summer of my childhood.

Since my father loved tomatoes as much as I do (or even more, if that's possible) I decided to get him some for his birthday. It was on June 10, really too early for tomatoes in St. Petersburg (Russia). But there were some brought from more southern regions at the farmers' market (or, as it was called then, "kolkhoz" market, i.e. "collective farms" market; not because things sold there were produced by collective farms, but because only those who were officially members of such farms were officially allowed to sell the fruits of their private labour, on their own little private patches of land). Anyway, early tomatoes were too expensive to be affordable on a regular basis, but the money for two pounds was just about reasonable for a birthday present.

And so I rose early, when my parents were still asleep (it must have been a Saturday), and walked several blocks to the market. Early summer is about the best time of year in St. Petersburg, the city was still somewhat sleepy; the morning was sunny but cool. As I was painting, I recalled this walk as clearly and directly as though I'd only just returned from it: the feel of sun on my face replaced with cooler shadowed parts of the street, and then with sunny ones again.

I bought these two pounds of tomatoes and, on my way back, a package of dairy product, whose name is officially translated as "sour cream", but is really something quite different. Anyway, that was what my father liked to make tomato salads with -- in fact, had I known in advance that this particular memory was going to enter this painting, I wouldn't have included vinegar and olive oil in the set up: they don't really belong here, they are from another place in space and time.

When I returned, my father was already awake; somewhat surprised, but pleased with my gift. As it turned out, it was my very last birthday gift to him -- there was one another birthday to come, but I was at a hospital at the time. So in the end, this is what this painting is about.  

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