Every artist has a thing. It's a theme, color palette, material. Some artists are well known because they were groundbreaking, controversial or prolific creators of art. Some where known while they were alive. Others became famous after their death. Regardless of fame, live or dead, canvas, film, wire or clay within all artists there is something that causes the need to create.
I often wonder what it is like when other artists have there first purposeful creative experience. What is going on in their life when they make a decision to create a work of art that has deep purposeful meaning? What is the impetus? What was their first attempt like? Did they like it? Did they keep it?
What was Van Gogh's first work of art? Was it a doodle? Was it something he did at school? Maybe paper mache? A clay cup or saucer for his mom? What was it?
What about Jackson Pollack? Rembrandt? Dali? Magritte? Di Chirico? O'Keefe? Picasso? Cezanne? Matisse or Monet? What was the material they used for their first painting? These are questions I ponder, for I know what my first canvas was. It was my back yard neighbor, Jason Wagener.
One afternoon Jason came over to play. My mom had recently hurt her back and was resting either on the couch or up in bed while Jason and I played together. We were pretty good buddies and behaved fairly well for a four and five year old, so mom didn't worry when we headed out of sight to the basement to play.
I have no idea how much time passed, but sometime during the afternoon my mom woke from her nap by Jason who appeared in front of her sniffling in a sad, scared voice "Mrs. D-d-duff.... D-d-d-dannnnny, p-p-painted m-me!"
It was true. Both Jason's arms and legs were covered in paint. And not just any paint. This was the good stuff. It was an enamel based paint we used to cover our front porch, and it was a deep forest green.
My mom quickly realized that there were two issues that needed immediate attention. Not reprimanding me for painting a playmate - that would come later. No, what mom realized was that the paint that was covering Jason needed to be removed immediately AND since the paint was on Jason and he was standing on the brand new carpeting that had just been installed on the entire first floor of the house, that he needed to be removed as well. So mom, bad back and all, picked up Jason, holding him at arm's length and rushed him to the sink so she could start scrubbing him clean.
As a parent myself I now imagine the fear that my mother had about how Jason's mom would react when she saw her green stained son. Nobody could blame even the nicest, most understanding mom for being upset that another parent let their child get covered in thick enamel porch paint.
I do not recall if I was punished or not. I only know that my family brings up the story often at family gatherings. My mom focuses on how she reacted to Jason standing covered in paint on the new carpet. My siblings however choose to focus on how that event hurt mom's back to an extent that we had to cancel a planned family trip to Hawaii.
I tend to focus on the fact that no one was seriously injured or maimed and that one day when I become a famous artist that Jason Wagner will come out of seclusion and lay claim to being the first canvas that Dan Duff ever put paint on.
I wonder what Jason's favorite color is? Mine as it turns out, is green.