I had a landscape painting show on the local PBS affiliate at one time, but now that all seems a world and a lifetime away – before the big boys from Boston muscled in and told my channel to buy their bundled "Art with Eleanor" program if they ever wanted to hear from their precious "Nova" and "Frontline" again. So these days, I paint in malls – set up an easel, practice my craft like I'm oblivious to passers by, and bring an empty canvas to blue and green and moonlit sparkling life as crowds of traumatized shoppers shuffle by.
I've painted in and outside every kind of mall imaginable, from the colossal arctic-cool mega-malls of suburban Atlanta and Dallas and Minneapolis to hot street-front shopping centers in Laramie, and Farmington and Medford and Shamrock, where I've pitched a canvas tent in the parking lot in springtime. And in every one of those places I've seen the panoply of human life pass by. I've seen couples hand in hand choosing wedding rings in jewelry store windows and I've seen those same personae later, in the same location, walking pensive and alone. I've seen the movie lines in early fall, boys watching girls watching boys, wearing bright new sweaters on the first chilly day of the season, streets getting dark early and air crackling with crisp energy. I've seen robberies too, and senseless escalator accidents, and even the wounding of noble mall security guards for the price of a jacket or a fancy new cell phone. I've seen people entering shops seeking bargains and I want to say "hey that's no bargain — you can get a better one for half the price across the mall!" But that's not my job. That's not the job of any mall painter who wants to be invited back next season.
I'll tell you what my job is. In this press of humanity, in the hustle the rush of vanity and necessity and desperation, of comedy and tragedy and frustration and indifference, I paint trees. Trees, and rivers that sparkle like glass, and moons and snow-topped mountains not too far away, and sunshine and meadows and hidden trails and hills and flowers and forgotten wells and welcome places you can be, when you want to, and feel like a part of
a beautiful world. That's my job. I've never described it before, but that's how I'd say it. I am that shining moment when people feel they are themselves, I am that mirror of what they know they really are, and how they'd love to be if only dinner weren't already late, if only the credit limit hadn't been exceeded or their house foreclosed upon, if only they hadn't changed the styles just when their wardrobes were complete. That is all I am, and all I ever want to be.