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The Big Lebowski: I Don’t Get It

In 1998 when the movie The Big Lebowski first came out, my father, who considered himself an intellectual, raved about this movie. So I went to see it on his recommendation but couldn’t figure out what he saw in it.

Now the star, Jeff Bridges, is in a new movie and people are again talking with great reverence about his role as “The Dude” in The Big Lebowski, which some critics rate in their top comedies of the past 25 years. My son even had this movie in his collection, so I borrowed it, thinking if its popularity spans that many generations, I should give it another chance.

I watched it. I still don’t get it. At the end, when “the stranger” (Sam Elliot) who begins the movie with his narration returns to the bowling alley for another sarsaparilla and concludes the narration, I decided to sketch him so at least I had something to show from spending two hours with these morons.

Is it a guy thing? Is this a movie that makes guys feel good because they’re not as bad of losers? Do people really think the Dude’s pothead approach to life known as “The Dude abides,” was worthy of worship (there is actually a church based on his character, called Dudeism)?

I loved the Coen Brothers’ movie Fargo (mostly because of Francis McDormand) but even she couldn’t save their most recent movie, Burn After Reading, which, after renting it accidentally, I thought had to be the most pointless movie I’ve ever seen.

If only the millions of dollars spent on making stupid movies (much of which goes to already obscenely wealthy movie stars) could be spent on feeding people, funding education, the arts, or making the world a better place.

Art theory Faces Oil Painting Painting People Portrait

Persistence, Acceptance and Freedom

Don and Robin

Oil on panel, 9×12″

This is a portrait of my son and his grandfather, Don, from a photo taken 30 years ago. I started working on this painting a few days before he died two weeks ago. Although he was afraid of dying he had tremendous acceptance, from years of regular meditation. Visiting him was a very peaceful experience. Even though he was experiencing so much loss, having been an athlete all his life and now watching his body fail, he was incredibly serene. We brought him some photos to look at, including the one from which this picture was made, and they cheered him up and made him laugh.

The reason I titled this post “Persistence, Acceptance and Freedom” is both because of Don, and also because I’ve had to accept that I don’t yet have the skills to make this a good portrait in oil paint, despite my persistence, and that this painting is as far as it’s going to get and it’s time to let it go. And that gives me much needed freedom, after working on this for way too many days. In the beginning it was a wonderful way to remember Don and think about those early days. I was determined to do the best I could but now by accepting that this is as far as I’m willing to take it, I free myself to move on to something else.

I didn’t spend enough time with the initial drawing, the photo I was working from was old and funky, and the color had faded strangely. Initially there were three generations in the picture, my son, his dad, and his grandad. First the two men were great but the baby was a mess. Then the baby got good but I messed up one of the men. After scraping off and redoing all or some of the people many, many times I decided to eliminate my son’s Dad, paint the background and clothes, and call it done. The thing with oil painting is that you can edit forever but I need to stop.

I’ve read it’s better for learning to paint hundreds of one-hour paintings than to spend hundreds of hours on one painting. I’ve tried the later and it’s not fun. I’m ready for the former and excited about doing timed paintings — more like sketches — one hour apiece.

Art theory Faces Life in general Painting People Portrait Sketchbook Pages Watercolor

Squinting to See the Light (funny story)

Squinting to see the light

Watercolor in large Moleskine notebook

Today at work, 10 of us were sitting around the table in the lunchroom eating and chatting. I sat across from our director, facing the picture window and our 27th-story view of Oakland, the San Francisco Bay, Mt. Tamalpais and the huge, cloudy sky. I was thinking about what I learned in my painting class last Sunday about the importance of learning to see color temperatures and value. A good way to do that is to close one eye and squint, which helps to blur the details, so that you can see shapes and values. I decided to practice on a blue house and a large brick building that I could see in the distance. I tried one eye and then the other, curious if it made a difference between my left and right eyes.

Suddenly I realized the conversation had stopped, our director was asking me if I was OK, and everyone was staring at me. I burst out laughing realizing that I was sitting there making weird squinty faces and they were all thinking I had an excruciating headache or had suddenly gone mad. I started trying to explain what I was doing and they looked at me perplexed. They finally realized it was an “art thing” and went back to chatting about work and TV shows and travel.

When I got home tonight, I looked in the mirror to see just how funny I looked and had to do this quickie self-portrait in my sketchbook. Amazingly it actually looks like me!