The glossy pages of the art book feel slick, as if covered in a thin shellac.
I keep returning to the photographs of the paintings, staring, transfixed.
I love it when I can see the paint brush strokes as well as , or better than, the objects depicted in the paintings. It feels like I am engaged in two very different ways of looking.
On the surface level, I am trying to figure out who the person depicted in the painting is, what is their backstory, what can I tease out of their slight facial expression, their bodily stance, their clothes, the artifacts they are holding. Do any of these objects on display illuminate their character? Mirror the subject’s situation? Are the oranges on the table fresh? Is the light coming in from the window morning or night ? It is easy to spin these details out.
On another level, I am looking at how a slathering of pigment is smeared over a surface. The fleeting illusion of a world created by stains on canvas. After a little scrutiny, a portrait devolves into rough sketched marks, the image becomes more about how the colors push and pull on the eye, how “ depth” is created, how the textures of the paint add to or detract from the image – some marks are thick and fatty, and some thin, and thirsty looking. Does the vitality of the strokes overpower the visual illusion?
I am in a coffee shop right now, waiting for Mia. She insisted on meeting today; was so urgent about it on the phone and yet still infuriatingly late. I want to have a cigarette, but I am trying to stop that embarrassing habit. A cross lady across the shop is eating a sloppy looking cinnamon bun, while flipping through a fashion magazine with her thumb. No one else is here yet, and the sound of the coffee being ground is abrasive. I return to the paintings…
I marvel when I notice how little a painting actually has to do for me to interpret space in it. That flat red shape for some reason seems far away. The trickery of it is made even more delicious when it’s bare nuts and bolts are left exposed.
Look at Vermeer’s painting titled “The Girl with the Pearl Earring”. Really look at it. The pearl itself is just a misshapen smudge. Only a quick dab of light paint is dashed over it, and suddenly the thin murky splotch seems spherical, has depth. Suddenly it has weight. That curved scrawl of paint creates, as if by magic, the bulge of the “pearl”- every part of the stain seems activated.
Average painters might depict this piece of jewelry by impatiently drawing a clear line and then coloring the pearl in, like a coloring book. Vermeer has none of this. Where exactly the pearl separates from its background is unclear. It’s a magic trick, drawing or painting a sphere, with only implication. I love paintings where the magician isn’t trying to hide how the trick is being done. Vermeer’s paintings are masterful in his showmanship.
Isolated flakes of snow drift in, flitting around like gnats as a heavy metal door opens. Mia barrels into the shop, her hair a disaster. She throws her many bags onto the seat across from me, and orders a latte from her seat. A tired barista nods.
She digs around, takes out a sketchbook, so that her hands have something to do. I ask how she is doing, where she has been all this time. If she is ok? The grinding of the coffee is disrupting loud. Her pencil scratches on her sketches. After a while, she answers, “I think we should break up.”