It was a favorite glass, and I took flowers from the yard along with some we had purchased and plopped them into the glass of water. Put it on a white cloth. And I painted it.
I had to “reconstruct” the tip of the green fond that bends over on the left because (when I wasn’t looking) the cat jumped up and chewed the end off of it.
The queen conch shell is essentially radial. It has these spokes that go outwards from its folding calcite structure. You could think of them as shapes somewhat like volcanic cones, and they sprout along the undulating surface of the shell, forming its outer layer. Inside, the shell rolls in upon itself creating inner chambers where the animal has lived during different phases of grow.
That’s the shell.
The background is a very dark blue cloth. It might be reminiscent of the sea, which is after all where the Queen Conch lives.
Above that imaginary horizon … I’m not quite sure what these other things are — triangle wedges. They are dynamic shapes. They echo the spikey-ness of the seashell. But beyond that, they (I refer to the negative shapes) have yet to be identified.
Why — if a yellow plate with a honey comb and a honey jar sitting on it is like the moon — like a moon in a dark night sky composed of arabesques of leaves and flowers — why is the picture a still life and not a landscape? Why not just paint the moon and the stars?
Of course maybe (it’s entirely possible) the picture is not a moon at night. Maybe a honey jar is just a honey jar, a yellow plate is a yellow plate, a honey comb nothing more significant than itself alone.
I don’t know why I even brought it up. (Someone asked me only yesterday if I ever experience synesthesia. Does this count?)
I just thought it was moon-like in its light.
Okay, maybe I can understand a little bit how extra dimensions can be hidden by folds in the universe. Matisse taught me the principle, but I must say I kind of stumbled into the practical understanding of it.
I was just drawing the still life table. And as you can see the paper bowl is there — that’s the one I made of paper mache. I composed it using scraps of paper that had little drawings on them from the period when my daughter was always scribbing. Behind it is the black cloth decorated with exotic flowers. (I think of them as “night flowers.”) In front, but next (if we’re moving from left to right) is the dark blue bottle of facets. God, I love that bottle. Found it in a thrift store, of course.
Next is the crow figurine. Well, that’s appropriate — night flowers, night bird, dark bottle. Then — everything changes here — you see, I had two still lifes set up side by side on the same table. The other still life is visible next. It’s much lighter (obviously). So there’s this field of sky blue created by a drape and upon that sits the big white ginger jar. Vase? Ginger jar? (Do you put ginger in the ginger jar because this one’s kind of big ….) Whatever.
So I was drawing. Evidently I was drawing from left to right. Then I ran out of still life. I couldn’t see what was next because my own drawing board was in the way.
So, like Matisse taught me, I just drew the drawing board — and thus redrew the left-hand side of the picture — only bigger (because it was closer).
Now I don’t know — strictly speaking — if the stuff inside the folds ought to be represented as it is in physics. But my representation of the still life table dragged me into the picture (so to speak) because I had to draw my drawing board — the way that Matisse drew his own foot when it happened to be inside the field of vision he was portraying — but you know that picture, don’t you? You knew that was what I was talking about.
I will never understand the impulse to tame the still life table. Every corner of the universe is colored, littered with light, lousy with lines, sumptuous in shapes, an alacrity of alliteration.
The still life table is a microcosm. And the cosmos is noisy. (So a small one is just micro-noisy.) It’s messy (like this house I’m uncluttering).
Perhaps it’s a self portrait, and I am the cup — beset by indefinable and menacing-seeming massivities on either side. Under me is a solid slab, but it’s probably cold — solid but cold.
Or maybe it’s your portrait. Maybe it’s not me — I am a sunny optimist, after all. So maybe I just drew it, and it’s your portrait.
At least it has abundant green, green like leafy forest over-hanging canopy. And it has orange, warming deep and comforting. And that emblematic slab — the tile coaster where the coffee mug sits — is blue ethereal. And those un-identifiable massivities are night colored like a field of stars. The emblems, the symbolism are much to unravel.
Maybe it’s just a still life of a coffee mug. But one cannot rule out the symbolic portrait.
Which is it? You or me?
The red sprig of berries is connected to the left-hand edge. The brown vase is connected to the top. The whale whistle is connected to the jade green jar. The blue and yellow cloths are connected along their entire shared boundaries like Siamese Twins. Everything in the picture is connected to everything else.
And that Whale Whistle — I think he’s looking at you.
Still life and physics have much in common except that the still life painter is a naturalist and the physicist, a theorist. I look at things in their wild state and merely record what I observe. The objects all adhere firmly to the table. Shadows fall in the direction opposite the light. The objects, being inanimate, never move about. And they have a stability that is rather marvelous to contemplate since they are so sturdy and compact. Each, while made of differing substances, has a tensile and a compressive power.
Light falls upon the whole of the scene. Its reflection into the eyes of the beholder provides the veil of color that becomes the picture. Some colors are cooler and recede, creating an “atmospheric perspective.” Other colors, warm ones, come forward and seem to greet us. I understand that light is kind of important in the field of physics. It’s very important in my trade too.
All that remains is time. But I did long ago notice that the still life table is like a clock whose color changes tell the hours.
Sometimes the best part of a still life might be the depiction of the turn in a fold of cloth. In ordinary life I don’t suppose people think much about the leading edge of a cloth as it folds under itself. I know that outside of my practice of art I rarely think about such things. It is art that brought me into contact with such ideas.
Perhaps physicists sometimes think along this line. Once, very late at night, I heard a physicist explaining multiple dimensions on the radio. He said that the hidden dimensions might be like tubes that coil in upon themselves.
Well, whether or not there are hidden folded dimensions that create the universe there are certainly frequent occasions when the cloth folds, and the observation of the fold is a marvel to behold.
Sometime I’ll have to talk about the rest of the painting, the part above the fold.
A solid blue vertical something is like a curtain that has opened to reveal the theatre of objects sitting on a table. The light casts dramatic shadows and still life objects assemble like players in an opera. The curtain cuts in half a yellow cup making it only partly visible stage left (house right). It sits upon a regal cloth colored deep purple, against massed folds of olive green, the color of foliage.
The greys and browns pile together in a somber foreground. Above them bottles huddle together around a brilliant yellow cup so luminously pale that it lights the picture. The background is all horizontal grey bands of shadow. Study the rim of the cup. Follow its curve into the thought. Tip it and there’s the ellipse.
Things are a cipher of thoughts. Look into things and see a reflection of an inner mood.