I’ve written before about the give-and-take between novelists and characters. I not only try to enter into the lives of my characters, but I also give them pieces of myself. Today I want to talk about this old watercolor painting I gave to Victorine:
I painted it the summer I was sixteen. Not for any reason. I wasn’t taking an art class, didn’t have any materials other than a nearly-dried-up plastic case of kid’s watercolors. I just wanted to paint my naked self.
Maybe it was the power of my 16-year-old body. I knew I would never be that age, or have that body, again. That’s how I lived my life, even at that age. I would not say no to that body and what it desired.
I have no idea why I chose purple for my skin or green for my hair. I don’t know except that I did choose them.
In Paris Red, I have Victorine paint a self-portrait. She has only cast-off watercolors that she’s picked out of Manet’s trash bin, so she can’t choose red for her hair or anything close to a flesh tone. She says,
“I cannot paint the right colors but I can at least paint shapes. So I make my braid a green vine on my shoulder and my face a blank, blue oval. Each shoulder is a rounded blue stain where I push the brush flat, and my neck becomes a blue column.
I make myself the color of a flower.”
Do you see what I’m saying? Sometimes there was no line between Victorine and me. I was her, and she was me.
Here’s the 35-year-old watercolor in its entirety. I don’t know why I scrawled my name on it. I think I wanted to own myself.