As I have already mentioned I’m painting koi these days.  And the koi painting is a very abstract and free image since the fish are moving and their precise shape and anatomy is not visible.  My koi sometimes won’t even come to the surface to greet me.  Then at other times they fly out of the water as though they’ve momentarily forgotten that they’re fish.  Consequently I see them as fluid distortions that blend with the water in which they live, and their presence reveals both surface and depths.

So it seems odd that I should be thinking about little squares, but I am.  For a long time, I’ve had a complicated emotional relationship to the works of another artist, American contemporary painter Jennifer Bartlett.  (More about her later.)  While she certainly did not invent the square, to which delight I think we owe thanks to someone among the ancient Greeks, she did give the square rather more of a high profile than it had enjoyed in a long time.  Even there, of course, she borrows (whether knowingly or not) from a famous precursor Pierre Bonnard — who saw squares everywhere, even in the foliage of the trees.

Perhaps it is not strange then that I look at my koi paintings with an eye to discerning the grid that possibly overlays their pond.  If I sought a very precise rendering of the image that I’m painting, as I translate from a reference photo to the canvas, I might impose a grid over the photo and block it in square by square.  Since it’s interpretation I seek and not a photographic idea, I have no motive to desire such precision.  However, the idea of the grid still beguiles me.  I think of each square as a window that opens up a more intimate view of that section of the picture as though we might open a door onto some little corridor of reality.  I want to peer into those squares to see what each one holds.

But the grid that overlays reality, conceals as much as it reveals.  Ce que tu montre et que tu cache … there is this elusiveness, this ineluctable something, this je ne sais quoi that persists.  It is the mystique.

[Top of the post:  Photograph of a shower curtain (with a design in blue squares behind which can be seen parts of a paper mache fish), photo by Aletha Kuschan]

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7 thoughts on “The Mystique of Little Squares

  1. Bonjour Aletha,
    je suis fascinée par tous ces carrés et tout ce qu’ils me suggèrent.
    Ce n’est qu’en lisant le texte que j’ai compris qu’un poisson s’y cachait…et depuis il me saute aux yeux.
    Tres beau.

  2. While I can appreciate the squares in art, I do not like them. Rounded shapes seem to be more pleasing to me. Thus, I do not see squares everywhere – I see faces. Give me almost any texture and I can find a face in it. Some of them will be distorted, but others might be extremely realistic. In fact some of them were so good that I tried to put faces that I saw on paper 🙂

    Here is an interesting illusion. How many pandas and other animals can you see? If you want, you could highlight or circle the ones you see 🙂

  3. I like organic forms best too. And I’m not aware of nature creating any squares, but then I fear the mathematicians would tell me I’m wrong — that squares all hidden all over the place in this-squared and that-squared????

    Your ability to see things (that are not there?) is something I find intriguing. I used to know a man, nominally he was my “student” though he was old enough to be my father and was quite beyond my ability to teach since he had so much of a robust natural talent that developed quite beautifully on its own. I was loath to tamper with him, because I had no clue what he was doing, but it always worked for him. He used to imagine anything inside anything else.

    We were at the Phillips Collection in Washington once standing in front of a long horizontal picture that was unmistakably a still life of objects on a table among which was included a globe and a stack of books. And my friend was seeing fields and trees and animals and all sorts of mysterious things hidden inside this picture! I never understood him for a minute, but his paintings (chiefly landscapes) were very mysterious and lovely. Had he begun painting when he was young rather than beginning in old age, who knows what he might have become. Even in old age he was a marvel. I have one of his little paintings in my living room.

  4. Bénédicte
    C’est tres difficile pour moi d’exprimer mes idees en francais. Mais cet effort m’aide beaucoup d’apprendre le francais dans un facon plus vif.
    J’ai viste votre site aujourd’hui et j’ai vis les dessins du chien en repos. C’est absolument charmants. Ses dessins resemblent les siens du Bonnard — avec les lignes souples et faciles, tres naturelles, et lyriques.
    Le poisson qui se cache, c’est toujours le sujet, n’importe quoi, qui se cache et l’artiste qui doit se le retrouver!
    A bientot,
    Aletha

  5. c’est interessant de s’exprimer dans une autre langue, que sa langue maternelle. Chaque langue apporte un point de vue different, un peu comme dans ces carrés multiples avec des vues differentes.Et vous vous exprimez très bien, bravo.
    Pour en revenir a ce tableau, en haut,je le regardais avec une vision fragmentée, l’oeil se promenant d’un groupe a l’autre. J’y voyais des paysages un peu toscan, collines, maisons, chemin, puis quand j’ai regardé globalement, le poisson a surgit.Oui, l’artiste, mais toute personne qui regarde peut trouver ce qui s’y cache.

  6. “Chaque langue apporte un point de vue” et dessiner, c’est une langue comme d’autres, mais en des “silences plus charges de drame que toutes les paroles.” Et on commence à l’apprendre en taches, peut à peut.

    Vous voyez des paysages dedans! Quelle merveille! Un peu toscan, aussu. J’aime cela.

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