Dueling Dolphins in the Studio
|by Lee Wayne Mills
|After thirty-three years of living together, I am astounded to confess that two big fish have come between my partner Don and I. Well, two big sea mammals, to be exact. Those decades together never prepared me for the aesthetic and territorial assault that was to befall me when we both received dolphins to design and decorate as part of Rehoboth's Dolphin Project.
As a working artist, my studio has always been the place where I am unequivocally the bossNumero Unothe Big Kahunaand a perfect slob when in full-tilt production. There is method in my madness and, if not exactly manifest destiny, something like it in my command of the materials and supplies scattered around meseemingly haphazard and in disarraybut known to me in the artistic equivalent of clairvoyant perception. Okay, sometimes it takes a few minutes to find something. Nevertheless, the results of my endeavors reassure me that I am on to something and producing worthy work. At least I think sosome of my friends do, tooand many good folks have actually bought my work over the years.
Don, a retired banker and chauvinist Virgo, started planning before the dolphins arrived. There was research, of a sort, and preparations, of a kind. Mostly he took things from my studio that he thought might prove useful in his dolphin makeover. Neat little piles of my stuff found their way to his workshop benchbrushes lined up by size, paint arranged alphabetically.
Don seemed to know exactly what he would do with his dolphin. I waited. I would not presume any dolphin identity beyond a basic design concept before I saw him. I needed to look my dolphin in the eye, touch my dolphinget to know him.
At last, delivery day arrived. It was cold and windy, but sunny. I met the dolphin sculptor-fabricator and his assistant at our home, where my studiobig enough for two dolphin decoratorsis in a huge walk out basement.
The truck was loaded with two finned fabrications. Dolphin delight was all about. "How exciting!" "How big."
"Two of them," the sculptor said ominously. "Whoa," and a steep slope down to the rear of the house. Very heavy, very awkward. So, a difficult trek twice taken. Correction: with the bases, four times taken. "Let's put them here, just inside the basement," I suggested wheezingly. No one disagreed.
And then I looked over at my dolphin, and she winked at me. I was amazed and a little taken aback. It would take some time to revamp my strategy. I was the father of a girl child!
Don went to work on the project that evening. There was much to be doneheavy collage and appliqu workwith a head start drying overnight. I went down to my studio in the morning and, like Connecticut Avenue at the Washington Beltway, found all lanes blocked and egress denied.
Losing no time, Don had positioned his water-bully in the middle of the nine-foot sliding window flanking the workshop area ormore preciselythe entrance to my studio. Trapped in impassable lanes, my dolphinfresh in from Maine or Massachusetts, New Hampshire or wherever the hell she was fromwas denied access to the studio.
I crawled for hoursliterally! On hands and knees I pushed his beast here and there as I inched my beauty toward the middle of the second set of windows. There were no collisions, no dings, and no dents. I was exhilarated, but I was exhausted. I broke for lunch and returned for an afternoon of preliminary sketching...it would be fine.
And it has been fine, with the exception of all those telling, little gesturesthose little thoughtless things that vex two people competing at a single task. Living together all this time has been a wonderful adventure. Working together, as well. Playing together has always been great. But this new dimension of dolphin decorating togetherness has been fraught with opportunities for mischief and disbelief.
Never one to consult, Don has been after me constantly about glues and adhesives, about color selection and mixing techniques"How do I get a gray like gray flannel?" he asks. "How do I get a warm, brownish tan?"
So, I take my little Styrofoam bowls and start mixing, only to be brought up short with questions like, "Why don't you start with white to get gray?"
"Because I start with a little bit of black and add white and other colors to get to the shade of gray I want to use."
"It's not very efficient," he adds.
"It's always worked for me," I counter. Not once has he taken the advice that he sought, and I'm actually okay with that. These are revelations of no importance; but it is unusual, this late in the game, to come upon them in a spousein this case, a pestering harpy occupying my space.
The fact is, I am jealous of the progress Don is making on his Barrister Dolphinsponsored by attorneys, obviously. Everything moves so well when choices are seemingly arbitrary.
I keep finding my way through discoveries and the occasional aesthetic roadblock. My dolphin is a realtor. My initial conception of vignettes of Rehoboth maps dancing around my dolphin's torso seemed more like rogue tattoos on her belly, when actually applied. Yuk! I reconsider...refine.
Meanwhile Don's barrister dolphin grows more legal by the hourlike Charles Laughton in Witness for the Prosecution. Even Elsa Lanchester would be uncomfortable with the likenessfrightening.
It will be lovely when they come to take these sea babies away from us in a few weeks. Though I will actually miss their presence, I will enjoy my studio returning to sole occupancy...I hope. I've got an exhibition to get ready for by the end of July.
But alas, rows of perfectly labeled and identified paint applicators (I would call them brushes) and color-coded vials (actually old prescription containers) line the bench where Don's screws and saw blades formerly lived. Indications are that Don intends to stay.
But truthfully, I will miss the jocular tension, the bumping into each other and the scrambling to grab this brush or that tube of paintit put a decidedly youthful spin on our relationshipand we needed that. We're getting older. There are some rusty parts, but there is still a glint and sparkle on the finish. The old Chevy can still run and we're looking for things to do.
I am Lee Wayne Mills; and I approve of this activity.
Editor's note: Don's dolphin can now be viewed at the Rehoboth Library. Lee's dolphin is along the Rehoboth Avenue median.
LETTERS From CAMP Rehoboth, Vol. 15, No. 4 May 6, 2005