I was looking through a book containing many of the works of the painter Robert Gwathmey when I came across an image that reminded me of a small piece that I had painted several years back. Gwathmey’s painting was titled Singing and Mending and featured, like many of his paintings, a depiction of African-American life from the rural South. This piece had a man in overalls playing a guitar while a woman mended a piece of clothing. It was the man playing the guitar that caught my eye.
Perhaps it was the overalls or the position of the guitar or the bare feet but all I could think of was a similarity in its nature to a small painting that I had painted a few years ago and which now hung on my sister’s wall. It is a little oddity that I always look at with interest whenever I go to her place.
I call it Big Foot Stomp.
It was an experimental piece, a revisiting of another earlier foray in paint when I was just starting years before. I can’t quite recall what my initial intentions were with this piece. I remember that I laid down the splattered background with spray bottles of paint, masking the lighter center with a piece of matboard as I did the darker outer edge. But I don’t think I ever had this figure in mind when I began to paint in that center.
But I’m glad that he came out in this way. I recall painting the head first, just laying down a silhouette of paint then trying to make something from it. I remember liking the way the dark paint seemed to pop from the lighter background, making me think this was a black man. The rest is hazy in my memory except for a slip in my brushstrokes that affected the size of his feet and for the decsion to leave out the parts of his clothing that would normally be visible. For me, these two elements really make this little guy special.
There’s something about the white space where his clothing would be that brings a spiritual element to this piece for me, as though his playing and the rhythm of his large feet on the floor are taking him to a place beyond the here and now. I think the way he rests in the splattered background enhances this.
I’ve never painted another piece like this. Maybe he was just meant to be one of a kind. He certainly feels that way. But at least in the Gwathmey piece I have found a spiritual relative to this lone guitar player.