Sunday, April 26, 2020

SEEING WITH DIFFERENT EYES

When I left a paper towel crumpled up on the counter yesterday, the different planes of white made me think of the ways Georgia O'Keeffe painted white, particularly flowers. There were always other colors in her white: purple, blue, green, gray, sometimes pink and red and orange, and they spoke eloquently of the way she saw flowers close up and intently.  
She said once, "You put out your hand to touch the flower--lean forward to smell it--maybe touch it with your lips almost without thinking--or give it to someone to please them.  Still--in a way--nobody sees a flower--really--it is so small--we haven't time--and to see takes time, like to have a friend takes time." For anyone who paints, seeing a flower is an intense and time consuming work.  Looking at every gradation of color and texture, even if what you are painting is a white flower, determining how thick the paint will be, what sort of brush strokes you will need, how you will mix the colors on the palette, and how adjust them once you have begun to set strokes on canvas. If you are using water color, it is like playing chess.  You have to think far enough ahead to mask the areas where you want to place very light colors or white at the end of your painting.  Although I started with water color, I found it too difficult to know ahead of time what areas exactly I'd need to mask. And once, when I was doing a triptych for a final in a watercolor class, I accidentally dropped a blob of quinacridone red on the middle canvas. I couldn't scrub if off without damaging the canvas, so I had to paint another bougainvillea bloom where the paint had splattered. Fortunately it worked in that painting, but something like that could easily have ruined the whole panel. My mother was still alive when I started painting and she told me that my grandfather, who had been a painter and sculptor, told her that he really preferred painting with oils because you could cover up your mistakes.  It was only later when I realized that he used water colors most of the time because they were so much less expensive, and that made a difference for an artist living through the Depression.  
I also loved oils, and many of my paintings had areas that were quite thick where I had wrestled with trying to convey what I had seen and it took several layers to achieve the effect I wanted.  My favorite painting of all that I did was of Monet's garden at Giverny in the spring.  I spent two years on that painting, and I placed the arc of the support for the summer flowers right at the edge of the canvas, and was so pleased with the result that I could never bear to use a frame that would cover the top of the arc, so I painted the edges of the canvas to continue the landscape, and a friend who was also my interior decorator, designed an exterior frame to look like a window so that I can imagine I am looking out at Giverny from my bedroom.  It was many years later that I actually saw Monet's water lily gardens and looked out of his windows at the paint box flower beds, but I spent an entire afternoon wandering up and down the paths of his gardens. For thirty years I had dreamed of being in those gardens, and I believe I took the time to befriend--and fall in love with--the spectacular flowers that sang of a painter's enchantment.

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