14 December 2008
Good bye and thank you for everything
I found out this weekend that a dear and important person to me, has left us. He did so by his own hands and I don't think I will ever begin to understand why. But I can speak to how Steve Panella helped me to see things the way I needed to so that I could become to person/artist/maker/person I am.
He was my first painting teacher at the University of Florida. Second semester, freshman year. For the most part, all I did was make a huge mess in his class. The paintings were fine, even great in some moments, but I made a huge mess of paint, leaves, dirt, canvas, wood, glue, etc. I made one (huge to my new painter hands) painting that was essentially all of the above mixed up and covered in black paint. After the critique for this work, Steve brought in an Anselm Kiefer book for me to look at and I've been hooked ever since. I guess I should mention, this was a Black and White painting class--I've obviously not moved too far from that. I don't totally remember every critique, but I remember the feeling I got from coming out of those classes. I was confident. I was sure. I knew I could handle doing this for a really long time. And for the first time in my life, I liked who I was becoming.
Not until after the semester ended did I see his work. It was remarkably similar to things I was getting into and things I would later do. We didn't have too much dialogue about our work, mostly our intentions. The similarities I would continue to find over the years only keyed me into knowing that we had similar intentions, and made me realise that ideas can trump practice, so I really had to pay attention to make sure I'd keep a good balance of the two. (Practice vs. idea is something I know I will always struggle with. It's easy to make the perfect work in a sketch book or on the walk home from the train and then forget all about it.)
He is a beautiful person, and I will miss him. People usually have regrets about not staying in touch, telling them things, etc. etc. but I did get to tell him once how much his support meant and how it really got me from there to here. From a mess to a mess with a purpose.
At the end of the semester I brought the Kiefer book to his office and handed it to him. He looked at me and handed it back saying, An old teacher of mine gave this to me when I was in school. But I think you can use it more than I can now. I guess, in more than one way, I hope to be able to pass something on like that some day. To be a friend and to teach something that sticks even if just long enough to help someone from there to here.