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Quint Means Five: Behind the Idea of “5 Symbols”

When I was in Oklahoma getting my bachelor’s degree, I painted a lot. Stacks and stacks of paintings. Night and day I sketched, jotted, and experimented with paint. This was even before I had taken any introductory art classes, so I wanted some advice on what to make of what I was doing. One afternoon I made an appointment to meet with a very good painting professor named Marty Avrett in the art department. The appointment he made with me was to show up in the middle of a figure drawing class.

I showed up around the time of the appointment and knocked on the classroom door. Through the door’s small pane of glass, I saw Marty approach. Behind him, the model moved her eyes, but the rest of her stayed perfectly still. Marty opened the door and I entered into the sounds of the busy students moving pencil and charcoal moving against Arches paper.

Marty had in his hand a rather ornate crystal glass. My eyes lingered on his glass. “Gin,” he told me. Then, with a sly smile, he shook his head. Not gin. Of course I should have known, but at that age I was not wholly certain just what professors were capable of.

We stepped outside into the hallway and in the natural light of the Oklahoma autumn he looked through the whole stack of my paintings and drawings. Many minutes passed. He shook his head or nodded and pointed out many of the marks and sketches that he liked. He cautioned me against a beginner technique he referred to as applying paint “straight from the tube,” which is to say that the paint has not been mixed or blended, so to the experienced eye it simply reads as a pure cadmium red or cobalt blue rather than the color the artist intended it to be. In one image I had painted a stylized sort of campfire full of oranges and yellows. He tapped this painting. “This is pretty good,” he said, “and in these areas it begins to get really interesting. But you realize that you are trying to paint fire — fire.”

“Some winter evenings when there is no wind, I will go out to the pile of tall grass, limbs, and brush that over the course of the spring and summer I have trimmed and gathered together. I bring a chair from inside and a glass of single malt Scotch whiskey, and just when the sun is getting low I start a fire in the brush. I sit there and watch the bonfire. I sit there all evening. The day passes and the night grows fuller. As the fire burns hotter, it gets deeper into the wood. The heat passes into a hollow pocket in a branch, maybe from an insect nest and it will pop loud. I sit out there under the stars, and every so often the heat will blaze and send sparks whizzing up. I listen and watch the life of the flame: the hiss, the crackle, and the silence and darkness of the sky. The idea is not to paint the fire like you can trace the outlines of something recognizable. The idea is to feel into that experience and be changed, be inspired.”
On a notecard he wrote the names of three painters he wanted me to study closely.

Clyfford Still
Jasper Johns
Cy Twombly

After awhile, he put my paintings away and said with the mature respect of a true artist, “I know what you are trying to do here.”

He mentioned all the symbols I was using There were too many to really develop a relationship with and give the attention they deserve. It’s not necessary to have all those. Pick five of them and have those be your symbols, the ones you return to again and again.

Five symbols.

There is something about five. The idea resonated with me. I chose five symbols and I used those as motifs to return to in future paintings. Gradually, it became less about the symbols themselves and more about the way I rendered the images.

They became less important, but the idea rang true. There is, after all, only so much time. It is good to pare down to essentials and focus on a few core things, whether its pursuits in general or an artist’s motifs. When there is more focus, more can happen. Depth can better emerge amidst stability.

So with the lotion, the idea was not only to keep it simple but to produce something which highlighted the goodness of each ingredient and, through careful proportioning, allowed each to really shine.

Shea butter by itself is a bit too thick or hard to apply directly. It doesn’t spread extremely easy on the skin. On the other hand, many lotions are so thin, they are so watery, they don’t linger on the skin for very long. With Quintessence Cream, there is perfect spreadability and incredible richness. It is supple and and the same time full of moisture. The beeswax plays a beautiful part in the overall balance of the cream. The way I visualize it, the wax provides a sort of cap to the top of the fatty layer that really allows the moisture to be encapsulated and spread throughout the mixture, remaining there until it is applied to your body.

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