It was a Color-by-number and I was at my Grandfathers house. We used to visit him, in his apartment in Queens, every Sunday. We had our weekly routines of eating Tuna fish sandwiches and canned pineapple for lunch, reading the comics in the Daily News and window shopping on Liberty Avenue. But one Sunday, I don’t know what the occasion was, I had a brand new Color-by-Number set. The theme must have been animals (always my favorite) I remember the big elephant, ready to walk off the paper, his giant ears flapping. The problem was there was no grey pencil. The numbers indicated that I was supposed to color the elephant baby blue. I don’t know how old I was, younger than ten years old for sure, but a blue elephant just didn’t make sense to me. It’s wasn’t a cartoon elephant, it was a serious, realistic elephant and it seemed wrong to color him baby blue. I colored him brown, not because elephants are brown, but because, in my mind, it was the closest color in my choice of colored pencils to an elephant. I never forgot that elephant, because it taught me a lesson about color. It was years later that I finally understood why the instructions wanted me to color the elephant blue and the relationship between blue and grey.
Anyway, the elephant is long gone, but at the Porches Inn where Jon and I spent our Anniversary, Paint-by-Numbers are alive. All the art hanging on the walls of our room were old paint-by-numbers. And I loved looking at them. Because if you squint your eyes enough (or don’t have your glasses on) they really work. All those hard edged shapes blend together and become flowers and rainy reflective streets. They evoke another time, an era when adults did paint-by-numbers for entertainment, or to learn how to paint or as a way to be creative in itself.
Imagine what those people, the ones who painted the city scape or flowers or landscapes that hung in our room would think if they know their work was hanging in a hip new Inn being seen by hundreds of people, many of those people artists or art lovers. (The Inn is across the street from MASS MOCA the contemporary Art Museum in North Adams MA).
I found myself mesmerized by these paint by numbers, not for their emotional impact or content, but by the way they actually worked to create depth and dimension and atmosphere. The idea that someone painting them probably has no idea how the shapes they are filling in, with the colors they are filling them in with, will work to create a painting that they would otherwise have no idea how to make. It’s like magic in a way. And more magic (or maybe just time) that rescued them from some dark corner in a thrift store, where they waited for years to be rediscovered and appreciated. Maybe not in the same way they were appreciated by the person who painted them, but still appreciated and hung back on a wall for all to admire.