“Everybody must like something and I like seeing painted pictures… There is no reason for it but for some reason, anything reproduced by paint, preferably, I may even say certainly, by oil paints on a flat surface holds my attention… In short, anything painted in oil anywhere on a flat surface holds my attention and I can always look at it and slowly yes slowly I will tell you about it.”
Gertrude Stein, from “Pictures,” in Lectures in America, and quoted in John Updike, Still Looking: Essays on American Art, 2005
For me also, anything painted in oil paints on a flat surface holds my attention. I will tell you that this is a painting imbued with the colors of San Miguel de Allende, colonial city in central Mexico, where the brilliant sun lights up the sky, the flowers, the crumbling adobe, everything — It held my attention for the four weeks I spent painting it.
I had for several years been painting still lifes in “classical” chiaroscuro dims and darks. I loved them, and they suited (so I felt) our harsh and dark Berkshire winters. But by the time we took our second winter break in San Miguel, something in me yearned desperately for light and color, and I found a teacher who helped me throw away my tube of black paint. Helped me transform my palette. That’s what I can tell you, swiftly or slowly, about my painting.
But there’s something else that’s possible — If you read Gertrude Stein’s statement slowly, slowly — you can hear its rhythms, hear how it’s put together, listen to her speaking. You can listen to the words. In the same way — not in reproduction, but in front of the real thing, in front of any oil paints on a flat surface — you can, slowly, slowly, listen to the painting as it tells you about itself —
Not mine, because you cannot see its brush strokes, its surface. It exists for you only here in reproduction. But the next time you go to a museum or are in a home or anywhere where there are paintings on a wall, oil paints on a flat surface, take some time to listen to one of them (because it takes time). Listen slowly until the painting slowly tells you about itself, about how it is put together, and then slowly you can tell me what it says —