Tony Bluestone

Casting Spells

I am a control freak. You know the kind - completely aware that I am actually in control of nothing, but unable to stop myself from trying to bend things to my will. This is something I have always known. My attempt to deal with this impossible reality is that I paint. I paint a version of reality that makes sense to me, one that reflects a part of reality and uses that to build a new reality that I would prefer to live in. I use painting to build wealth, to fix broken bones and hearts, and to reveal what seems impossible to see. Here are some recent spells:

Working with a Color Wheel at Dusk, oil on canvas, 68 x 48 inches, 2020

Working With a Color Wheel at Dusk - Wheel of Fortune, Part I

A friend’s hip had been recently replaced and the healing process had significant setbacks. Pain and frustration were constant. Watching someone I deeply cared for suffer was difficult and trying to “fix” her seemed to only make it worse. This situation called for a different type of problem solving, so I went to the studio and made a rough sketch of my friend on her bike. Cycling is her preferred mode of travel and in order to ride, she would need functioning hips. This is one way to cast a spell, I make the reality I want to see. With that first plume of lines we collectively went on a healing journey.

In the painting she is riding downhill towards me. I look past her and she is framed by the coming night and the brick buildings of downtown Greenfield. Trying to capture the dusky twilight feels hard, so I invent an experience adjacent to it. The daily shifting of light replicates the type of change I hope is occurring in her body. I carve a bright yellow line along the edge of her jacket, a reflection of the last moments of this day. The expiration of time that coincides with the journey of healing is paradoxical as we are losing incremental bits of our lives, and yet those fleeting absences give space to move into new impossibilities.

I imagine my friend riding in front of her studio. She is also a painter and familiar with casting spells of her own through painting. Her paintings are impossible and yet there they are. The geometry, dots, rainbows, color that somatically vibrates in my eyes, and I feel my body expand and breathe and heal.  I take those rainbows and throw their color between the spokes of the bike. The (color) wheel is the Tarot predicting a fortunate turn of events that we can imagine together. The spectral apothecary pulls her through this twilight towards the front of the painting, where it stops. The dandelions blow in the air mingling with the oncoming evening, the winds are complicit in my wish making. I am pulling at the pieces of reality and trying to rearrange them, turning their quotidian existence into magical symbolism.

Now we are walking. My friend moves with a speed that has been adjusted to a slow gate that she continuously apologizes for. She doesn’t realize how much I love to walk at a remediated pace in order to take in the world together, laughing about the peculiar nature of life. It is hard to have a body in this world. My friend’s body is an extension of my world because she is a friend who has become family. She is part of an extensive net that molds my life. I make paintings that hold room for what is possible within this instability, but those possibilities are contingent on the forms we build. I cast spells that create the winds that kiss our cheeks as we move towards the evening.

Healing Is Fortunate, oil on canvas, 51"x 49", 2020

Hospital Bed - Wheel of Fortune, Part II

It’s spring 2020. There is a pandemic and things are generally not going well. One of the many terrible aspects of this pandemic is that people are sick and dying and no one is allowed to visit them. They are dying alone. I am thinking about loneliness a lot and how isolating it feels when someone is stuck between hospital walls and the world feels so far away. I am thinking about the things we reach for when isolation takes over - sometimes it’s good, sometimes it's bad. I think about how, at our core, we are all trying to make ways to find each other again. This image lingered inside my mind for years, it felt too personal to paint, the pandemic reminded me death is never personal.

This painting is a spell to bring in fortune when you need it most. The wheel of fortune turns you in a new direction. As we move from place to place, we do it through touch and connection, we do not move as atomized cells without consequence.

I am in the hospital room, there is a window connecting me to the world outside. The golden light makes me think it is fall. It is Sunday and people are running the New York City Marathon. I imagine hundreds of healthy bodies crossing the finish line. I imagine the overwhelming feeling of that achievement and I feel like crying.

My eyes glance at the television adjacent to the window. Wheel of Fortune is on and showing me a constructed way to celebrate achievement. The artifice of fortune that is being displayed is designed to position me as a cheerleader to their success, a bystander. I imagine that the contestants on the gameshow must have as much adrenaline as the runners. On the opposite side of the window a figure is reading US weekly. With all their fortune and fame, I imagine that none of these celebrities experience death. They are frozen in a timeless feedback loop of consummate desire. 

This hospital room is an extended view of these realities, and none of them have taught me how to feel in this situation. I put a Valentine’s Day card in my father’s hand, whom I love. I recognize the limitation of this gesture to describe our relationship. Later I will look back and know in that expanse of the bed there was an opening, that place where his body was disappearing, that was my chance, that was where the wheel turned.

The bed sheet is surrounded by junk or family or same, or life supporting machines, or the arm of the dying. Let us call it clutter.

There is a bag of blood hanging, it is an externalization of life flow, it goes into the arm an arm clinging to the edge of life, while the other holds a valentines day card, two constructions collide and have a moment of meaning. The saline bag distorts my view so I can see things in a new way, a real person reads about fake people so she can know how to be. The last stragglers of the race have crossed the finish line, the tv turns to a commercial break, and I move closer to the end of the scene. We are conditioned by these realities and they do not fade when we go.

So now after these years I am casting a spell, I am taking this clutter and finding its revelatory nature to spin the wheel and cast me out of this chaos. We find a way to take that space that was lost and weave it into the construction of our lives reflecting back what we need to see. Perhaps here in this painting I needed to see that time and make meaning out of it. I needed to return to that boundary between life and death and isolation and togetherness.


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