In the National Gallery in London Pierre-August Renoir’s “The Skiff” lights up the room. I am falling in love with it a little more every minute, and I can’t understand why someone put it in a small corner.
It overwhelms the space it is in. The green grass jumping up out of the lake in the foreground, the sparkling blues blue water grabbing the sunshine out of the sky, the women in the white dresses calm in the middle of the burning orange skiff.
It is the orange that gets to me, the orange, very, very orange skiff, I can’t get over the orange skiff – all that warmth absolutely dominating the blue lake, leaking off the canvass and banishing the picture frame, the museum wall, the museum floor, and the whole of the room we sit in. I can’t see anything but orange. I am totally smitten by incandescent orange paint. I can’t stop ogling it.
The women in the painting are so calm. One is reading, the other is sitting and rowing so casually. They seem so un-startled, so undisturbed, much like the people around me in the museum, shockingly respectful and settled.
But I am not so calm! I don’t know what to do. Perhaps I should stay right here on this bench for a long time looking and pulsating. I will; I am deciding right now to eat here tonight, and then sleep here. Now I am deciding not to. It won’t work; this Renoir won’t stop glowing, like a fire, and it won’t go down, like the sun. If I stay, it will be too bright to get any rest at all.
I won’t stay, but I will stare. At the bottom edge of the skiff I can see that the orange is coming off of the wood, and it is getting in the blue water. Renoir let it can away from him. The orange paint is jumping around in the ripples of the water that are coming off of the boat. The orange paint is getting all over the blue paint, taking over the gap between the boat and the lake. I can’t stop smiling. I like it that the orange has taken this step, has crossed over, has created an interface, has made this transition.
We leave the National Gallery. We get on the tube to ride through London to our refuge in West Finchley, our suburban home away from home that is housing our stay. We stand in the isle of the train because there isn’t enough room to sit down. A bell rings. The electric doors whoosh closed, and off we whir into the tunnel, rushing madly beneath the streets of London. We come to another station, we slow, then stop. The train doors open, and a woman’s voice, very British, says, “Mind the gap between the train and the platform.” We get off.
We mind the gap.
We always do, or not, depending on how well we are doing.
I love the gap. I love the people in the gap. I love young people crossing the gap between their immaturity and their maturity. I love me, crossing the gap into the next stage of life.
The spaces that exist between are always the most interesting, where the boat meets the water, where the blue meets the orange, where the train meets the platform – interesting, disturbing, transitional, difficult, formative, painfully beautiful.
Take the gap between childhood and adulthood — wow and superwow! This transition shapes the rest of life. To get out of the boat, to step across gap, to bring one’s babyhood, ones adolescence, ones teenafication, one’s “becoming” into ones “I have become, “ to splash the colors from one place into another, this is at the core of the very core of every rippling and transforming identity.
What is this thing, this growing up? What are the paint strokes that get us across the gap? How do we paint the immature past into the mature present?
I’m not always sure, but here are a few of the brush stokes that may need to be mastered to paint across the gap:
We must overcome the fear that makes us not want move our brushes beyond what we have known before, or beyond what others like us have done.
We must come to relate to the people in the boat, wisely, and not sit when they are sitting if standing is what we really want to do, or we must just jump, out of the boat, and into the orange water if really that is the only thing to be done when we are so ready for change that sitting doesn’t work for us anymore.
We must learn, must we not, when not to judge but still to discern what is right and what is flat-out, dead wrong for us, even if not for everyone else.
We must try, and test and test again, our limits, when one more, or one is less, or one is one too many, or too few or just right, if you know what I mean.
We must grow in confidence, to splash paint, from the boat to the water and on to the sky.
And what else?
What else must we do to get across the gap?
Tell me, so at the very least it is out here, on the canvass, to deal with, to face, to enjoy, to revel in.