Tropic of Painting

Surface.  Sometimes the picture is about the paint itself and what it does, about layers of color that hide under others just barely visible, about color dragged over the pores of the canvas so that it hits the peaks and leaves another layer visible beneath it.  This aspect of painting is where the discovery lives for the artist, I think.  Paintings unfold in unexpected ways.  It’s true that you can plan a picture completely beforehand so that you know where all its objects will fall.  But an artist would need omniscience to know where his thoughts will take him first.  She would have to have a crystal ball to know beforehand how the thing will get woven together, brushstroke by brushstroke.

Is this just an insider’s game, or does a dance of surfaces delight the spectator as well?  Do tropical colors unfolding in layers make your heart beat faster?

[Top of the post:  a detail of a painting in progress by Aletha Kuschan]


You’ve got mail

Artists, if you cherish little pictures, making your own private museum in miniature to awaken your imagination, you are not alone.  A visitor to Paul Cezanne’s last studio noticed that the artist had a few postcards of paintings pinned to his studio wall, some of them quite small and worn, evidently loved and cherished, which the visitor took to be evidence of the old artist’s taste and sources of inspiration.  The kinds of images that can set off an artist’s imagination are sometimes quite small.

Pictures of Pierre Bonnard’s studio at Le Cannet show that he shared the same habits as Cezanne.  On Bonnard’s wall was a little “shrine” to favorite paintings, including even little bits of tin foil that he said helped him see highlights.

I got this little postcard today advertising a prominent magazine about art and collecting.   I guess they hoped the portrait of the woman looking into a mirror would captivate peoples’ hearts, and I think they guessed correctly.  Even reproduced the size of a postage stamp, it’s an elegant, compelling, romantic image.

If you’re an artist or if you’re a budding collector, creating your own miniature museum is a good way to get started.  It’s the physical counterpart to a different sort of museum, the imaginary one.  I think every artist has a private museum that he carries around in his head, a museum without walls.

[Top of the post:  “You’ve got Mail,”  computer-altered photography, by Aletha Kuschan]

Fence around Paradise

I must have a child’s deep instilled love of chain link fences and of hopping over one to play with my friends and to explore deep into Nature or sometimes to go undercover for the CIA investigating the neighbors!  (Whenever you see children creeping around neighbor’s homes, it’s a sure sign.  They’re spies.)

This fence has mathematics in it too.  Or so I’m told, which must mean I have mathematics inside me — though I’ll be darned if I can locate them.  This fence occupies the upper corner of a painting I have underway.  Its meaning is so far elusive.  It holds in or keeps out something.  Perhaps it guards my optimism.  Perhaps it defends against the trends of my era.  Inside its enclosure, birds sing brightly.  Along its wires a cicada climbs, seventeen-year-cycle visitor of insect Brigadoon lives eternally here.  Here flowers bloom by themselves without roots.

“Good fences make good neighbors,” said the poet.  This fence is also a fabric that holds one’s self together, a tapestry of beginningness.

[Top of the post: detail of a painting by Aletha Kuschan]

Grand Lion Flowers

Millet’s pastel drawing of dandelions shows how easy it is to find subject matter for a great work of art.  A magnificient subject lies just beyond your toes.  What subject could be more commonplace?  Well, commonplace in most yards.  My father always showed such firm, unrelenting distain for dandelions and has treated them like one treats an invading enemy.  His wrath has not abated either.  Extreme old age, which makes even walking difficult and makes bending down perilous, is all that prevents him now from still persecuting these happy, ineluctable weeds.

But what is a weed except another name for a hearty native plant, the native who survives all Nature’s moods, and all reckless attacks of predators, and all that ill winds can do? — that has, so to speak, seen everything and prevailed?  How does one defend against resilent Success?

He used to have a special long, forked tool whose dedicated purpose was to be stabbed under the intruder’s roots to pull the thing out whole.  He would go around the yard, like a soldier on maneuvers, and capture each one he found.  And I marveled at the perseverance of his Lost Cause.  Dandelions are among the most prolific plants.  The dandelion that you see is just the mother of a thousand, thousand offspring napping in the soil, awaiting a drop of rain and a little beam of sun.

The race of dandelions have their whole, bright, earnest life-cycle aimed upon the goal of world domination.  After its brilliant, sunlike flowers comes the white, fuzzy globe of seeds that needs only the slightest breeze (or a visiting child) to spread its millions throughout the earth with great alacrity.

Perhaps it’s the tension between generations, the inevitable rebellion, however slight that must sometimes occur between parents and their children, that I in contrast to my father find as much delight in dandelions as he has found menace.

[Top of the post:  Dandelions (detail), by Jean-François Millet (French, 1814–1875), Boston Museum of Art]