A Visit to Basil King’s Studio

June 11

I was visiting Basil and Martha King today and Basil invited me upstairs to see his studio. On entering, I promptly knocked over an empty canvas. “Don’t worry,” Basil said, “I do it all the time.” I was drawn, not only to a work in progress that Basil had started with smudges of bright colors, red and orange, dark greens in the background, run through with straight black lines, but to everything around. As we talked, he confided, “Frank O’Hara used to visit my studio about every three weeks. I was in my twenties. He really loved painting and poetry. Frank said to me, ‘Basil, you are going to be painting until the day you die.’ I think he was right. I miss him all the time.” And in a very real way, though the times change and a studio might move to another space, the studio continues as long as the artist remains, and it felt nice thinking of John O’Hara in this way standing here with us in the present still thoughtfully looking at Basil’s canvas.

June 21

I was visiting the Kings again, and Basil asked me if I wanted to see the finished painting. It was delightful and invigorating to see the surfaces, angles (angels) and depths that Basil had explored, conjured and covered and presented once more in other forms since the first time I saw it a week before.

“I never feel something I do is ever finished,” I said. “I always think there’s more. Art is only abandoned.”

“I’ve found when painting there is a particular pause,” Basil said. “What does this work need? More work or is it finished? When this happens, before I touch what I have been working on, I let the painting sit. If I keep working, and don’t let it sit for a few days, I could ruin what I’ve done, and I will have to begin again.”

Yes, I thought to myself. With writing, however, I can look at older drafts, and sometimes the beginning ones are better. And often, of course, the oldest draft is best. Writing and painting are similar though the canvas and the page are slightly different.

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