‘A Mid-summers Night’s Dream’
The people of Mendocino and the regulars at the Sea Gull were not my only unrequited love affairs. It was my belief that I belonged here. True, I knew Antonia and her family when I arrived, but I moved to the coast because of the landscape. I was in awe of it. The sense of place, the genius of the location if you will, it gave itself to me. Gave in such a way as I was breathless most of the time because of my joy experiencing it.
The air off the ocean, rich with possibilities, the embrace of the redwoods at my back, the amount of space to move about free from congestion, all these let me live out some dreams. Yes again, there was the light, particular to Mendocino.
Light to a painter determines his attitude. It is the base note that harmonizes to their well being, their inner resonance to the world around them. It, light, creates the conversation a plein-air painter has with nature. Painting nature is how one can heal themselves from the injuries of not finding beauty in the day to day workings of humanity. Me, and a lot of painters are of this ilk.
I would be engulfed by the full moon in any area of Mendocino. I was inspired by the moon with a sure knowledge of benevolent magic at work.
I think it took seven or eight years living here to admit I had to paint the moonlight and how it touched me, my home, us – especially in the summer.
I lived, next to Bill and Karen Hand, shared space with nineteen cats, seven dogs, a tortoise, a old horse and a donkey. He was companion to a senior horse.
The donkey hung out in the pasture and was like an alarm clock. Every morning at sun up, the guy would go on and on laughing at the day, taunting someone to get up and feed him. He enjoyed people and followed them around for apples from the adjoining orchard. His name was Brewster, and I liked him for his ability to horse around with me. He would eat out of your hand.
In the summer of 1982, a voluptuous moon hung over the redwoods in Sagittarius, the archer – cupid. Social life was pumping with desires. Along with everyone else, I had to submit to the favor of the moon. The shuffle had me, got me, turned me around and bumped and tickled me. I had no regrets, and more than several people during a long weekend. The only story about the moon I could remember that made sense of what was happening to me/us in the community was Shakespeare.
All my friends were at the height of their vitality and beauty. Our moons were full. Alcohol flowed. Sun burned people danced barefoot at late night parties in the meadows. The moonlight coated us a pale turquoise blue blushing with periwinkle, the shadows spiriting into the forest was indigo hand in hand with black plum. Couples slipped away from the gatherings at camp fire light.
Everybody’s seductress on the radio was Late Night Liz. Her low contralto voice soothed us well into the night. Body heat warmed the cool evening breeze off the ocean on the deck at the Sea Gull bar. The music there made us sway. I got a glimmer of an idea when I was overtaken by the moon. I had access to a donkey. We all were in the right place at the right time and we were acting out our Mid-Summers Night’s Dream.
Shakespeare’s play was not quite a Fairy Tale, but it was a literary attempt at one. It had fairies, drugs, nudity, passions, craziness, beautiful people, the moon. I couldn’t resist. We had all those things and us.
This was my first attempt at organizing so many characters. I didn’t think about it other than the story, it was natural that the characters would be partially dressed or nude. It was a frolic with not real people, a total make-believe.
The donkey had to be in there right up front as Shakespeare’s character, Bottom. I chose a moment in the story, where the crucial crazy making relationship with a donkey and the Queen of the Fairies, Tatiana takes place. Or, for our team, Brewster and Late Night Liz. Liz Helenchild aka LNL, was our local Texan smooth talking beautiful Liz, the one and only radio station’s late night DJ. Her voice came across the speaker like warm strawberry jam. Her humor was right out of west Texas. And she presented music to you as if she was right there in the room with you and could out guess you what the next song you would pick. She held us captive in our own homes through the radio on week nights. However, when she showed up at music events on the week ends, her dancer’s body would take hold, people would stop and watch, they would be equally enraptured by her movements.
Liz was in a writing group with me. My mouth would hang open too paralyzed to laugh at the stories she told. She once told a story where she and her roommate, a young mother, had to quickly leave her eighteen month old baby sleeping alone in their house for over two hours while some emergency drew them away. Not a particularly funny start, but what got me was when Liz and the mother got back to the house, Liz described the baby as “marinating” in his diaper. Liz was gorgeous.
I asked Liz to be Queen of the Fairies. She drawled, “Why sure. What do you want me to wear?”
I figured I would ask her to pose with Brewster. Liz showed up in what could only be painted as a spider web of a tank-top. Brewster was suddenly the gentleman donkey. The photographs of the two of them together show he was rather coy, shy.
Brewster became Bottom, but in fact, “Bottom” was half man. I needed a really beefy guy’s muscular shoulder and arm to carry off the full size head of a donkey. Doug Nunn, of Hit and Run Theater, at the time was the breakfast chef at the gull. He was part of the improvisation theater as I was and I asked him to pose for me, as shoulder and arm. I put a glass of wine in his hand. I suggested the glass to be tilted then told Doug the glass would be painted to be half full of red wine. It would reflect the moon that Liz was pointing to as if it was the problem.
Shakespeare’s story tells how the King of the Fairies gets Puck, a lesser fairy, to put a love potion on the Queen of the Fairies’ eyes so that the next person she sees upon awakening she will fall in love. Of course, the Queen falls for an ass. This was such a familiar event at the Sea Gull most of us took it as . . . yet again, gulp, me too. And, upon research, I found that that drug (in the history of potions) was made from a flower, a pansy. So, I got a pansy and went looking for a Puck.
Richy Pechner, was cute. You would think it the moment you laid eyes on him. And after a few minutes talking with him you would know it. He was a playful imp of a man, an electrician by trade. He brought people together around him with his humor. I asked if he would pose for Puck. When he arrived at my place, I showed him the sketch I had planed for the composition I made months before I chose anyone, I had sketched all the characters in the nude. He was fine with that.
“How do you want me? There?” I pointed to my desk that I had cleared for him to stand.
As he was undressing I told him I planned to paint him green and not to worry, I’d leave his magic parts in the shadows. He jumped up on top of my desk and played like he was weightless, flying, coming in for a landing. I took a polaroid from my floor, the perspective was as if I was in the bar looking up at the painting and Richy was coming out of the top of the redwoods for a landing. We alternated which foot he needed to keep planted for his balance. Perfect, it took ten minutes and four Polaroids. We had fun and he was happy posing. We laughed about the photo session at the bar later that evening. Others were engaged in our conversation. It seemed more people were becoming involved in my ideas for paintings. It was as if the new paintings yet to come were a topic of conversation.
I did paint him green, and his magic parts are in the black of the shadows.
It’s a family bar after all.
I painted him with a cupid’s bow and arrow (heart tipped) and a pansy to carry. I took one of the Polaroids before he took off his heavy horned rimmed glasses. Even though the others photos fit the period, I used that one where Richy had on his glasses, rather than having him totally nude.
Puck was cute too.
Between Puck and the large head of the Donkey and Doug Nunn’s arm, I had enough room to place two other important characters in the play. Paul MacHugh must be the King of the Fairies, he had the shoulders for it. I painted him in profile from the rear. I tightened up his tush. Paul had to resort to body work to make ends meet, but he really was a fine journalist in a one newspaper town. A former Catholic brother he mastered words. Sometimes he resorted to working as a part time janitor at the Gull. He mixed with everyone of us in the same age group. He was more seriously minded.
And Joyce LeSeine became the story’s Changeling who had caught the King’s eye. While the Queen was involved with Bottom the ass. Joyce worked as a waitress at the Sea Gull. A voluptuous black girl who wore fabulous wigs styled after those the Supremes wore as icons of the 60s and 70s, I painted her nude and golden in the moonlight. I painted her kneeling on a leaf. Her head slightly lifted to the appreciative focus of the King of the Fairies. Joyce never posed for me nude, I took photographs during a work break. I had already sketched in the body of the Changeling. I would marry her portrait to it. Some of the guys at the bar asked me why I painted Joyce so small. They referred to the size of her breasts. I didn’t have a good answer for them, then I realized what was important to me was how simply beautiful her presence was. If breasts were meant to be the ogling power in this painting over the bar, any breasts worth noting then better belong to the Queen of the Fairies and nobody else’s.
I picked wild flowers for Brewster’s head garland. I painted them in the same moonlight that lit Liz and Doug’s arm. Cherie Christianson was quite popular as THE local gardener. Also a good friend of Liz, Cherie had a radio talk show during the day about gardening. I asked her to pose as a fairy and water the garland that was around Brewster’s neck.
Other women posed as transparent fairies flitting around, waitresses and bartenders. Katy Symington, Cheryl Brown, Francie whose mom used to own the Caspar Inn. Everyone all fit or played into the roles.
Then, hanging out next to the horse-faced girl with the beautiful butt, there were the guys, the satyr, Tommy Quinn, the centaur, Hap Tallman. The spider – me, painting moonlight on the redwood leaves at the top of the composition. I looked into my mirror for that portrait.
I don’t want to get any more personal. Nor, do I want to tell any tales concerning intimacies. I’d like some privacy here.
So, how did the painting go over? Considering it was about the shuffle?
Well, Bill Hand, the veterinarian, was in the bar just after I hung the painting.
Richy Pechner, who posed for Puck, walked in thru the swinging doors and Bill blurted out over the ambient noise level of the room, “Here’s the green Fairy.”
That’s how it was accepted.
NOTE: More on James Maxwell’s Sea Gull Paintings can be found HERE
NOTE: More on Anthony de Senna’s art can be found HERE