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Unveiling the next Monet

Ranger Rich


Behold the talent of Ranger Rich: It's a sequoia ... or is it a volcano? - RICH TOSCHES
  • Rich Tosches
  • Behold the talent of Ranger Rich: It's a sequoia ... or is it a volcano?

I believe people are born with certain talents. Put on this earth to do specific things. Take an actual guy named Colum Murphy. With a name like that, you can guess what he does. That's right, he's a tavern owner and soccer hooligan.

No, actually, Colum Murphy writes a newspaper column with brilliant, insightful observations such as this: "Over the past few years, Thailand's political elites have waged a battle on the streets of the capital using mobs to throw democratically elected governments out of power."

I'm also a writer, and a month ago put down this equally insightful observation: "I was up at the zoo the other day and saw Zippy the giraffe crane his neck and start to badger the other animals until I could no longer bear to watch, and I'm not lion. Nyuk, nyuk, nyuk."

The point here is that even great writers like me, or I, and Colum Murphy, or him, sometimes wonder what other talents we have in addition to this breathtaking ability to writt ... wryt ... wrieght ... to make these so-called "santances" with our fancy words.

In this quest, I enrolled in a watercolor painting class at Bemis School of Art here in the arts and painting mecca we call home (official town motto: "I Don't Care Too Much for Monet. Monet Can't Buy Me Love.")

The eight-week course was led by terrific instructor Kathy Hutton, who, on the very first night, stood at my easel and compared my delicate brushstrokes to those of watercolor masters Frederick Remington, Georgia O'Keeffe, Andrew Wyeth and even Paul Cézanne.

Then a big mouthful of her coffee apparently went "down the wrong tube" and she blew it out of her nose and onto my "Ducks on a Winter Night Sipping Tea with a Guy Named Danny Who May or May Not Have a Limp."

Accompanying me each Monday night was my wife, Susie, whom I'd thoughtfully also enrolled in the class as a surprise. She was thrilled by that news, judging by the way she let out a huge breath and rolled her eyes.

This might be hard to believe, but Susie was even better at watercolor painting than I was. For weeks, the other students talked quietly about how they could almost smell the salt air and feel the wrath of the dark and stormy sea and sense the great power of waves crashing against the beach in Susie's painting, "A Dog Alone in the Forest."

Class preparation began with soaking special watercolor paper in a bathtub for 20 minutes, a task I performed dutifully each Sunday night. (Instructor Kathy kept insisting our paper "smelled like feet," which was, of course, nonsense.)

The first night, we learned the Japanese art of sumi-e painting and the creation of shadowy images of birds and bamboo in black ink. This is often confused with sum-o painting, in which you paint fat guys wearing only jock straps made out of old truck tires — and if you're with Focus on the Family, you might get the kids out of the room — hugging each other and sweating profusely, with one guy eventually landing on top of the other. (Programming note: See the HBO film, The Trials of Ted Haggard.)

Later came landscape painting and techniques that created "the illusion of depth" and involved "shading, linear perspective, diminishing size, value, intensity and detail." I stunned the class with a scene that was either a jagged, snowy mountain range grudgingly giving way to the warmth of another Norwegian spring or a Saint Bernard skydiving from the Hindenburg in 1936, depending on the light and angle at which it was viewed.

Seriously, my best work was a landscape masterpiece featuring a towering sequoia thrusting upward against a blue California sky, its massive trunk anchored deeply in the rich soil where it began life as a fragile sapling 400 years earlier.

Kathy said this about it: "So, uh, is that a volcano?"

I think I'll head back up to the zoo and ferret out more news about Zippy the giraffe.

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