I’m busy painting koi these days, doing my own version of Monet’s Nympheas idea, living as it were in imaginary pools of water, becoming it sometimes seems a fish myself, so immersed I am in a world of blue. So, it’s intriguing to reencounter a work like this drawing of flowers and to find so many similarities in it to the fishes and the pool.
Though the colors are entirely different and the associations are quite opposite, this picture bears a mirror likeness to the koi ponds. This similarity is made all the more mysterious by their oppositions. One takes place outdoors, the other inside the house. One is natural, the other is civilized and artificial. One is vertical, the other horizontal. But inside both pictures are formal means of ordering the visual idea. Both images have a “swirl” of sorts as its schematic center. The implicit visual movement of the flowers in their design, both the flowers in the vase and the ones arranged on the design of the cloth, echo the swimming motions of the fish in their pond.
I’ve noticed this kind of visual metaphor before in my paintings. I have no idea what it means. Beneath the subject matter lies a process of ordering and arranging that is as much the subject of the painting as are the objects depicted. Somehow in the precise ways I order things, my personality lies hidden.
It might seem that a person’s way of ordering ideas would be the last thing about themselves that they would “hide,” and yet I only discover these facts of self-hood for myself by this very indirect means. And without even realizing I was doing so, naturally I reveal something of myself to others also by these tacit devices.
We project ourselves outwards upon the world in myriad ways. Just that sense one has of knowing people, of taking the measure of them, even of people that we just meet when we make those crucial “first impression” judgements — all these effects are signs of the self that is foisted out. Even a shy self is thrust onto the stage of life despite one’s efforts to seek shelter.
We are all actors on the stage as William Shakespeare once keenly observed. For the artist the picture is but another kind of garment one wears to demonstrate and manifest the self to the world.
A picture is a strange mirror because it distorts as much as it reveals, pressing ideas outward into the world in a thousand disguises. Yet behind all forms of concealment, one person peeks through. Paint. Do paint, and I guarantee you’ll gain self-knowledge though you may not always recognize the face you see in painting’s strange mirror.
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[Top of the post: Drawing of Flowers in a Vase, by Aletha Kuschan, Caran d’ache on Canson paper]