It's Totally Arbitrary but Not Gonna Lie, I Love New Years.
Reflections on the now: A portal where past and present collide.
Honestly, I love New Years.
Not gonna lie, I love the idea of New Years and all it represents. Yes, the Gregorian date (January 1) is truly arbitrary; the cycles of seasons make newness better suited to Winter Solstice — the darkest day of the year and therefore, the day where every day after begins to get brighter — or perhaps the Spring Equinox, mid-March, when the grass wakes up from its frozen slumber and the flowers begin to bloom with an audacity of color lost to recent memory, or one’s birthday — perhaps the most personal, least arbitrary choice of them all.
But there is something about the societally created ‘New Year,’ with all its glitz and celebration, pressure and promise. Arbitrary or not, oozing with capitalistic intentions and ‘doomed to fail’ resolutions that sit on the surface but never dive deep enough to actually touch the stubborn traumas rooted at the core of the patterns dictating our lives and sending us into an ever downward spiral (…too much??) or not, there is something to be said about the collective nature of New Years, and the power that that collectivism holds.
For a moment, a huge number of us find ourselves aware of and sitting in the liminal space between reflection and intention, at the portal where looking back and looking forward meet. “Where have I come from?” we ask, “and where am I going?” We take stock of the months prior, what we gained and what we lost, and look forward with an optimism saved only for moments of mass renewal. As we count down, everything stops — frozen in time between before and after, present in the pregnant pause.
Certainly there are a few of us, myself included, who seek out said liminal space often. The artists, the writers, I think, spend their time looking for the space in-between, where things are more ‘and’ than ‘or,’ often alone in our reflections. Rather than resent the infrequency of companionship in that place, I find it more exciting to celebrate that (even if it is only for a brief few days, or weeks) for at least one stretch of the year, society seems to come and join us in that portal, where looking back and looking forward meet.
A NYE Invitation, at Blick Art Supplies, of all Places
I encountered that very portal — one where past and future collide with present — on New Years Eve. I was at home in the Bay Area, and decided to run my remaining errands in San Francisco that afternoon — perfectly timed with a downpour of epic proportions. Amid fallen trees and at times, over a foot of water in the streets, I found myself checking out at Blick Art Supplies on Van Ness Street next to (judging by the large tubes of oil paint he was buying) another painter.
But not just any painter — E., the painter who taught the 4-session oil painting portraiture class I took in November of 2019. I was taken aback to see him there, transported in memory back to 3 years ago.
At the time, I was a recently single, overworked start-up employee who was (waves hands nebulously) trying to change her life (shrug emoji). E.’s painting class was held weekday evenings at a local boutique, two-hour sessions, once a week, for a month. When I started, I was still a few weeks away from quitting my job and had no (conscious) intentions of pursuing art. Art, back then, felt like a pipe dream, a hobby to pursue after I retired from a more obtainable career. I knew I wanted to live a more creative life, sure, but be a painter? No way. I was, back then, deeply intimidated by oil painting, having not touched the medium since my extremely questionable Painting I class in 2009 — in which my professor all but explicitly suggested that I stick to drawing.
I remember looking at E., then, and reveling in his talent. I remember photographing his palette rather than his canvas, fascinated by the breadth of color he could make with so few paints. He made it look effortless. He was so in tune with the medium; I didn’t understand how he could make the paint behave the way he did. At the time, his life seemed so far from mine. It’s not even that I thought it was unobtainable, it was just so far from my reality that I didn’t dream of it all.
When I signed up for that class, I hadn’t yet made any real steps towards pursuing art. Though looking back, of course, that class was the very obvious first one. It required me to go to the very same Blick I was in and buy oil paints and supplies for the first time in a decade — the same oil paints that I had in my apartment when the world shut down 4 months later. The same oil paints I used to start painting everyday in Spring 2020. The same oil paints I used just the other day, here in Joshua Tree, in December 2022.
When I signed up for that painting class, I had no conscious intention of being where I am today. I took it and went on my merry way. I hadn’t seen E. since. And there I was, looking at him again.
My first thought was, “Hey! Famous artists! They’re just like us!!” How wild it was to have him, now an even more accomplished painter, standing next to me. Me! Me, just a… a… painter. Wait. Also a painter. And then it dawned on me, at that register, at that moment, we were meeting, in a way, now as peers. Just two professional artists, checking out with their business credit cards, buying paint on New Years Eve.
I stood there in a daze, trying not to pay attention to how poorly the sales associate was folding my raw canvas, all but guaranteeing I would have to iron it at home before painting on it. But even that passing annoyance grabbed me. I looked at the yards of canvas before me and realized how specific and experimental my approach to the medium had become. How I had, in fact, painted enough to have strong opinions on not only the treatment and weight of my canvas, but even how it was folded and stored. Wild. What was this present reality I was living? How did I get here?
Simultaneously held next to the incredulous thought was we were now peers, was the awareness of how far ahead E. still was. I had watched from afar the past few years as his career had grown, from his collaboration for a luxury handbag to his solo shows at a gallery I aspire to show at. It was a roadmap of sorts, an example of where I could go in the future.
So there we were, at the register at Blick on New Years Eve, an unassuming portal where past and future collided with present.
You might be wondering at this point if I said hi and shared all this with him… to which the answer is: of course not. Nothing intimidates me more than a cold approach (working on it), and to be honest, I was hit with such a magnitude of emotion as these realizations were pouring in that I’m not sure I could have spoken anyway.
So E. walked out, blissfully unaware of the projection of intense symbolism I had just thrust upon his person. I whispered silent gratitude to ease that blow, and sitting in my car with my newly purchased supplies, shook my head at how once again, the cosmic hammer struck me with such an overt invitation for reflection.
Life is beautiful that way, huh?
But Why Not Every Moment?
The New Years skeptics would say: “it’s just another day — you could pick any arbitrary date and give it the weight of New Years, why not March 5th? Or July 12th? Or September 23rd?”
And they are absolutely right. If we wanted, every moment of our lives could have the weight we assign to New Years. Every day sits between the accomplished past and the optimistic future, everyday is a portal. The true portal is now: nowness is the portal, holding both before and after in its present embrace. The older I get the less I believe time is linear — maybe it’s a spiral, or a mishmash of cosmic goo, or maybe really all that exists is now, holding our memories and regrets, aspirations and fears in its pregnant pause.
It’s a lot. Every moment could be New Years, if we wanted, but honestly — wouldn’t that be almost too much magnitude to bear? To hold everything, everywhere, all at once, and realize the simultaneous weight and lightness existing in every present moment?
No, better to stick to one day of the year, or two, ease slowly into three, reach lightly towards four. Better instead to relax into the revelry of resolutions and champagne and the brief moment when the world stops to acknowledge a portal that is always there.
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Notes from the Studio
A quick hello from windy Joshua Tree! I am back after an extended vacation with the entire Maceda clan and look forward to releasing a handful of new pieces this month and a few other exciting pieces of news.
In the meantime, I’d love to hear from you! You can reply directly to this e-mail or DM me @alexmacedastudio (IG) or @_alexmaceda_ (Twitter). View my available paintings, below, including: “WINTER SOLSTICE IN THE DESERT.”
I love your concept of the portal! Somewhere we run to, a desire to explore the grey. But also something many fear (change, transitions, questioning of ourselves or our realities). My mother always tells me that time and one's life is a spiral, always returning to a very similar reality but with a degree of transcendence, or evolution, or heightened awareness. These days though, for me, it's definitely just cosmic goo.