Dale Fairbanks: March 2013
“What do you paint?” It is the first question I am asked when I identify myself as artist, so I find myself in need of a sound bite, a descriptive label of my own making…and fast, before I am corralled and pigeonholed in an unwelcome compartment.
I am not an expressionist painter, nor am I a realist. To call my work abstract is too vague; every brush mark on canvas is by its very nature abstract. My grandchildren ask that I explain my love for “dots,” but I prefer to call it a devotion to pattern, albeit a disordered pattern that becomes, hopefully, order and beauty. I am thematic, intrigued by enigma and mystery, excited by the idea of the cryptic and secret. I am a storyteller, perhaps, and therefore name myself: abstract narrative artist.
I love this man, my brother, and when he asks that I paint for him a canvas he has dancing in his head, I acquiesce against my better judgment. He has been asking for and describing this particular painting for three or four years. I put him off again and again, but he persists. Out of a desperate need to shut him up, I say, “OK, damn it, OK.” Ah…the irony.
Revelation 12:1-4 describes a woman robed with the sun, pregnant and crowned with twelve stars, standing on the moon. A monstrous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns waits at her feet for the birth of the child the dragon intends to devour as his tail sweeps a third of the stars from the sky and hurls them to the ground.
Are you kidding me? WHY? A private and spiritual manly-man, this brother of mine reveals only that this particular verse is vivid and alive for him. Did I mention that I do not do realistic work? It’s too hard. My patience with proportion is thin and brittle, nor is my expertise the human figure, which takes hours of life drawing and practice. My touch is heavy-handed and messy.
We agree to compromise. I will do a drawing of said verse in oil pastel, and I will work on paper. I am looking for a way out of this entrapment. Halfway toward completion, my brother shows up at my studio and tells me that the drawing-in-progress is not how he imagined it. Only a brother can get away with that kind of crap. He shut me down for two solid months of staring, staring and problem solving, and no work.
My sister-in-law rushes to my rescue. She is my committed fan and finds me to be but a tool in God’s hand. She focuses on her own love and devotion to Mary and tells me that already in the unfinished drawing the face of the woman encompasses the toil and struggle of our lives on this earth, the vulnerability of our human nature. She writes to me of seeing Mary’s “holy resignation.”
By this time I have left the building…the church building, that is, and become totally engrossed in the seven-headed dragon. “Go where there be dragons” is playing non-stop in my head, and I am out of my comfort zone. The fog is dense and I can smell smoke. This is at the end of the known world: Finisterre. And I scratch and scrape, layer and smudge the oil crayons across the paper, and begin to tell the story.
©Dale Fairbanks Oil pastel on Rives paper 42" x 30"
Photography by Gary Langhammer Studio