September 19, 2003 12:56 AM

While we were rehearsing our last play, I kept walking past - and occasionally into - this art supply store that caters to the local (and quite exceptional) art school's young and brilliant.

I caressed egg tempera and guache in those rich tubes for serious artists who don't believe in sets of prearranged color and imagined frescoes I would never paint.

I gazed jealously at four foot high canvases and remembered stretching flats and yearned for abstraction and scale.

I kept going home and looking at my own overly precious attempts at art. Fruit. Calligraphed vases and cats. Sentimental sketches. I wished for depth. I wished for cleverness.

See, I am a theatre artist. You wouldn't expect it to look at me, but I produce art with my body. Only with my body. I carve space. Everything else I try is mere dilettantism. I mean. I have one art.

I'm sure of it.

Absolutely sure.

But the canvas was on sale. And for a week, I kept going in to visit it. This thirty inch square. Not huge there against the others, but it called and teased me. You cannot carve me. This blank white uncarved block knew I feared and coveted it, the flirt.

I would snake around the store, slide through the safe and undaunting row of variously colored tape and precut matting, sneak up behind it and catch it sitting, waiting for me.

I needed it. Not to tell me I'm this painter I'll never be.

No. To use as the painter I am.

A painter of feeling where brilliance isn't.

So. I bought the canvas. And another, larger, one. A collection of true-pigmented guache to fill out the dilettante's set at home (a set of paints that don't quite slide across the page, with words like "bright" where "cadmium" should be in the colors's names). And a small quantity of large, pristine white brushes - a student's brushes, an amateur's.

And they're all waiting for me.

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