Young artist in the Treehouse
We have just marked off the half-way point of summer in our hideaway in the trees and with it has come — with apologies to Marcel Proust — a particularly bittersweet and precipitous sense of our own “Remembrance of Things Past” — the English title of his preeminent seven-volume work.
Whereas for Proust’s protagonist, reflection takes place down a corridor of many years, for us the look-back is more rapid as we consider a recent week of seasonal fun at “Camp Treehouse 2011.” Also, while Proust’s illuminations derive from a phenomenon he terms involuntary memory, our recollections do not depend on “the taste of a madeline.” (Proust suggests it is smells and tastes that call up the past.)
Rather we experience the combination of letdown and relief that often follows the visits of grandchildren. However, our memories are particularly flavored with wonder recalling our oldest grandson Jason — artist and photographer — once again taking up residence on our sofa and coffee table, and transforming the cramped quarters of the Treehouse into an artist’s studio.
For most of us, summer camp evokes images of children engaged in planned activities — jaunts to the sea, daily swims, arts and crafts, adventures into the great outdoors and dramatic productions, etc. For us with a focused agenda, most of our week is spent indoors. To our campers, who generally come in the high-school-age grandchildren variety, we try to convey empathy for the pangs of teen-hood, but I fear we often come across as not-so-with-it over-aged counselors.
A collective womb
The first time we were privy to the inner workings of the young artist was last year when we spent two weeks within a kind of collective womb witnessing art being born. This year we have only a week before the arts festival, which has been the catalyst for a burst of creative efforts over the past two summers.
Along with Jason this year comes his younger brother Daniel, and we quickly realize that having both young gentlemen within our intimate abode-turned-studio will not work. With a fervor of intensity directed at completing new art works and with our printer incessantly turning out new photographic prints, there will be neither time nor place to entertain Dan’s vacation desires — sleeping late and playing electronic games.
Fortunately, we have other children on the island — art patrons all, including their 9-year-old twins — who graciously invite him into their already-busy household for the week, where he is allowed to realize his relaxing if vegetative program.
With the festival deadline only six days away, we go into an overdrive of preparation: The artist spreading out his materials throughout the nooks and crannies of our contracting spaces and we, the pit-crew, offering up food and pep-talks in equal ration.
Though arriving ill, Jason pushes through to get his work done. For the support team, us, there is the expected division of labor: To me is given the objective of dispensing foods, medications, vitamins and encouragement; He-who-shares-my-world takes on the task, as he interprets it, of urging the artist to keep from slacking off.
In fairness to this grandfather, he is driven by the desire to see his grandson succeed and his fear each day that time is running out, and that there will not “be enough to show.”
Many variations of French toast or scrambled-eggs-cum-melted-cheese-on-toast are consumed by the energetic artist, and many runs are taken by this less-than-energetic grandmother to the garage fridge below for ice to chill the orange juice and smoothies. Many snacks and light lunches are concocted and devoured, with little time for frivolity or outdoor excursions.
With this grandmother running out of steam by four each afternoon, He-who concedes to eating out almost each night for a week — with lovely interim meals provided by the West Side branch of the family. In the evening, when the artist and I beg for some official comic relief, He-who relents and turning to his book, shrugs wearily as we point ourselves in the direction of “The Daily Show” and “Colbert Report.”
It should be noted that while Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert keep us in stitches, Jason bends over his canvases doing touch-up.
More than enough to show
During the early hours of the big day, I scramble around the yard gathering hydrangeas, Queen Anne’s lace and an assortment of wild shoots with which to decorate the tables. In the end, there is more than enough to show: There are photos and paintings from last year, and a number of new pieces in each genre.
Engaging the entire family in raising a tent and setting up display tables, the show is underway. One of a number of artisans in some 16 stalls, Jason once again takes the great leap of faith of the beginning artist — bringing his work to the public. We stand back and admire his adventurous spirit and courage.
Once the show is over — rained out for us on the second day — we Treehouse dwellers find life too quiet, too soon. No longer tripping over computer and camera wires, nor folding and unfolding bedding for the sofa, no longer competing for the shower nor seeking private spaces, we do find a kind of relief — a breathing space without the frenetic pace. There is the recurring sense of time slipping through our fingers even as we savor Jason’s triumphant moments, including the sale of a number of works.
In the end, for him there is the validating experience of meeting people who take his art seriously, who appreciate it and who congratulate him on his level of achievement. In such a moment is identity shaped, confidence built, direction determined and an artist born.