Long Game

Old age is ready to undertake tasks that youth shirked because they would take too long.

— W. Somerset Maugham

Who in his right mind spends three hours over a cup of coffee?

That’s what I did yesterday.

“Cuppa Joe” (oil on canvas, only 5 x 7 inches) took an hour to draw and two hours to paint.

Painting’s a leisurely activity, even when it’s fierce.

And it’s often called—like advertising and entrepreneurship—a “young person’s game” at which only artists under 30 can only succeed. That Picasso worked until he was 92 and Grandma Moses until she was 101 was freakish.

But painting is a task many a youth shirks because it takes too long.

Art teachers have told me today’s digitally driven Gen Z are too impatient to learn how to draw, for example, and are prone to say, “Just tell me what to do, so I can get on with it.”

Self Portrait by Richard Mayhew. Oil on canvas. 2016.

American painter Richard Mayhew, age 96, is still at the game every day in his Santa Cruz studio, despite waiting more than four decades for his “discovery” by the art world.

Mayhew paints misty landscapes and incandescent portraits, one of the reasons he was sidelined for so long. (Black activists are supposed to paint only angry political images.) Only this March did Transcendence, the first monograph on the painter, appear in book form.

Playing the long game, as Richard Mayhew has, is anathema to our fast-paced, feel-good, results-oriented, and digitally obsessed culture.

When every article starts with the disclaimer “Reading Time: 45 Seconds” and every one-second download delay makes us 1o percent more likely to abandon a website—10 seconds and we’re out of there—spending three hours painting a coffee cup seems like the doings of a madman indeed.

But it’s perseverance that pays at the easel.