What a beautiful clay pitcher. I had forgotten I even owned it or the jug either. After I found the painting stacked amid other forgotten things in the attic, I went looking for the jug, too. It’s North Carolina pottery, beautiful, handmade, exquisitely painted and fired. It must be there, I reasoned. I painted a picture of it; I must have it somewhere. And sure enough, the pitcher turned up. In a box, behind something, that was behind something else.
Every space, every centimeter of this picture can be dealt with as a small passage or composition in its own right. Not only can painting for painting’s sake, it can be for life’s sake — made for noticing whatever is around us. And there can be a thousand paintings hidden inside a single motif.
It’s not for calling whales, that’s for sure. If it is, it doesn’t work. Because I’ve blown this whistle many times, and no whales ever showed up. So I take it’s purpose as being to call whales to mind. It is very good at making one think about whales, this black shiny carved whistle.
Here’s one of my favorites of my own paintings. With its being so unassuming, how shall I presuade you of its merits? I’m going to be completely immodest and talk about it as though someone else painted it. Otherwise, I’ll never get to its virtues and no one will understand what’s so wonderful about it.
The artist has hastily assembled some ordinary yet secretly meaningful objects, haphazardly arranged (however the artist is ignorant of what meanings lie hidden here). The bottle is transparent, yet the artist has taken few pains to tell it. The whale whistle is picturesque, yet it’s painted in simple, loosely stroked shades of black and gray. The deep red cloth has a few, quickly rendered folds. The little white milk pitcher is boldly out of proportion, but somehow it doesn’t matter.
It’s just a painting to like for its directness, its lack of presumption, for merely being the reminder of one day.
[Whale Whistle Still life by Aletha Kuschan]
I took my first bearings from all those artists who believed that objects existed as excuses to make paintings. Painting has its own raison d’etre, and so if you paint a bowl it’s perfectly okay to exaggerate its contours, to have it provocatively out of proportion, to build its sides in thick strokes of paint and to have the atmosphere that envelopes it emerge from the same rich, thick substance.
The painting whose subject is solely an empty vessel has for its meaning “reality” itself. From rim to rim, what have you got except empty air? And into that air we can do little more than project thought. The color red, like empty air similarly prompts its own dignity of being. Red merely is. Not only its symbolic association with vitality but it’s plain ol’ physics of being the low wavelength make it a beckoning presence. Here’s a picture about nothing with all the Seinfeldian baggage such a claim inspires (not that there’s anything wrong with that).
Painters have every right to make pictures that it might seem only their mothers could love. But a blue and gold bowl on a vivid red cloth has no need for explanations. It’s its own picture. A real painter’s child. This bowl is twice the painter’s child since it’s a painting of the blue paper mache bowl that the artist formed in out-of-proportion shape from the start.
[Top of the post: painting by Aletha Kuschan]