Look dear, the dog’s name is Bonnard. What a darling puppy! Is it a poodle?
(If paintings could speak…)
No, no that’s the artist’s name. French, impressionist, part of the Nabis group…
And don’t you love her gingham dress. What a cheery polka dot scarf.
Yes the dress is interesting for its sheer flatness, the way it starts a dialog of pattern that circles around the painting…
And her sister’s curly hair. Lord, I’ve spent hours ironing my sister’s kinky hair to get it straight. Back before they had flat irons that is. We actually used an iron.
Mmmhmm. See how her curly hair pulls out the whorl of the dog’s coat, similar colors even, and then talks to the shaggy flowers and rattan chair at the left. Yellow playing at the perimeter of the painting.
And the men, just setting there like bumps on a log, watching while the women help the poor puppy, probably has something in its paw. Well, that’s just like a man.
Wait… the contrast of yellows on blue, the patterns and the shifting perspective, the delightful textures, the floating narrative…
Maybe I can buy a card for my niece for her birthday, do you think they have this puppy on a card? She loves dogs.
Probably in the gift shop, next to the needless mousepads.
Oh Patty, just look over there, at that wretched yellow Gauguin! It is Gauguin isn’t ? I so dislike him.
Legend tells that when I was a tot, my mother placed a slice of onion and a piece of candy side by side on my highchair. I reached for the onion and ate it every time, candy be damned. (The bright beginnings of masochism.) But today I don’t have to choose. Renoir paints these tear prone alliums like luminous cotton-candy meringues. Onion candy.
This man could make anything breathtaking. Though he usually picked lovely subjects, innocents. Smooth-skinned children and freckle-free women washed in pink serenity. The layering of beautiful style on beautiful subjects curiously turns me away. Sweetness too saturated. The too painful re-telling of the monumental beauty myth.
For being yellow onions, there is a paucity of that color. Instead, pink, cerise, and salmon rule highlights of green and yellow. The background, in strong diagonal strokes, rains down patches of green and blue. A storm, tossing bulbs about. The onion tops wave like flags in a gale. The curve of the table forcefully pushes out the perimeter of the painting and the whitecap napkin catches onions and garlic in a blue ribbon net.
Renoir plays cruelly with us here. Making us desire these blushing onions, this Venus candy. Knowing full well the bitter wince if we bite. Tears will flow. Some will burn. Finally he tells us the truth about beauty. So fearsome, so lovely and so deeply desired. It will bring us to tears.
And you can buy it in the Kimbell gift shop to hang in your kitchen.
Lepton decay, said Mr. Quantum Mechanics. He leans toward me, eyes bright, clearlya result of lepton decay. Big, surreal words about itty-bitty things. Little things that control our universe. Leptons and quarks, anti-neutrinos. Quarks have imaginative scientist names like “up” and “down,” “top” and “bottom,” “charm” and “strange”. These invisible particles have colors, habits, flavors and doomed-to-failure relationships. Ask any quantum theorist, they’ll tell you all about it.
Peer through the microscope with me, fall into the wormhole, descend into nanosphere beyond. Alice Oh paints big about the small things that make and break us. Cells, molecules, atoms, quarks, shrinking abysmal into theoretical, only observed in a hadron collider at infinite speeds. Exploding the secrets of origin and starfire futures.
The angular momentum of particles. The expansion of the universe due to Einstein’s Cosmological Constant. Incomprehensible beauty to most of us. Strings of theories extricating out biology into pattern, charting the behavior of molecules, of DNA, of cells, of organs, of people. Electricity coursing up and down our DNA ladders. Unbroken flow, now broken here and there. Causing Alzheimer’s, cancer, my wrinkles now folding.
Hypothesize my blue-mood Mondays. Graph my lucky-break Tuesday. Equation-solve with your titillating calculitis the chartreuse-green glow of madness. Circumscribe the absolute whiteness of fear. Should I shudder as the world spins round on the backs of infinitesimal particles? That when leptons decay, my lips move? Thank god I now have an explanation for that.
Susan Jane Walp, Blueberries in a Black Etruscan Cup…
Stillness. Easy to overlook. In fact, I usually pass right on by without a thought. Some could call them boring, but a still life is a meditation whispering a secret. A trade secret to most of the all time greats.
Meditation, like this painting, offers keys and hinges. Quiets the banging on our obstacle doors. A key, unlocking. A hinge-supported swinging. I hold this idea that if I am still, I can find the key and fashion a hinge that swings my problemdoor open.
The key is usually an observation, finding the root cause, the heart of the matter. If I take the time to un-ego myself enough to finally see it. The hinge is working with the structures of things, of organizations, of people. Finding out how they swing.
The structure of this still life reveals a beautiful hinge. A circular center holds roundripe berries. Forms a circular mass filling a cup of layered circles. In motion but still — the hinge around which all the other shapes turn. A series of squares radiate out, overlapping. Each piece receiving motion from its texture or position. Your eye follows the outside objects, starting at the knife, swinging around to the cork to the orange brick back and around to the knife. A slow revolution.
This work is more than structure, it is also a speaking key. Speaking not of berries or of brick, but of foundness. Of deeply touching the those things around you. A tender word embraced, a heartfelt thanks given, time to understand offered. Finding the keys at your fingertips.
I got happy this weekend. Which is quite a feat for a gal prone to existential crises erupting every hour, on the hour. Like Old Faithful. Shop at the mall, existential crisis. Clean a corner of the garage, existential crisis. Devour all that chinese take out. You guessed it, existential crisis. Go ahead, set your watch by me.
But not this weekend. A happy velocity overtook me. Stopped the ticking annoying my pocket. And all by chance… I didn’t know about it, didn’t plan it. Had no idea it was coming.
Like this painting. The colors fly across the canvas with laughing velocity. The colors, so immediate, overlapping, joyriding. You feel their delight in your body. A wave of color splashing onto your skin. Giddy.
This is light in all its Technicolor, charging towards us. Busting through the little chains of worry that snap the universal pocket watch to our belt loop. It’s rainbow-split light that ball bounces through our remote souls. Smashing that sulky radar — its constant pinging and greenglowing anxiety graphing.
Spin me around, you Hallelujah color. I’m coming with you.
Once upon a time, in a land far, far away, you were a child and I had magic. My kisses made your tears disappear. My cookies melted your sadness. Your “lovey” and nap solved tumbling world crises, vanished them into thin air.
Not so now. Now your home is full and my floors are empty, of tiny toys and rollicking crumbs. Now when you call (BTW not enough), you have problems I can’t poof away. Money problems, relationship problems, state-of-this-spinning-world problems. My crystal ball eye can’t tell your future and my conjuring is at best only words. Syllables dropping.
I worry. Did I spend too much time on the rules, when I should have guided you though the white space? The space outside of the rules, and in between them. The under-over weaving of chance and circumstance. Did I give you a leg up to climb that big oak clear to the top, cheering you on from below. Did I draw a crayon sketch to diagram this folding, unfolding world. Instead of saying, “don’t get sent to the principal,” I could have said, “when you see the principal, tell her this…”
I’ve lost that magic wand, and the power to make the stars line up. My old lady hands cannot set things to rights for you. On this Mother’s Day, I give to you this painting. A wish. A thousand kisses to banish tears. A thousand wings to fly. Strength to choose your color and call beauty out of the wild white unknown.
I’m a mom in the middle. I’m the between generation. My fingers touch both the hem of my mother’s skirt and the collar of my children’s shirt. This painting reminds me of the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem, and of motherhood.
At the temple wall, you’ll watch people writing little white prayers, rolling them up like cigarettes, and stuffing them into the chinks between the rocks. (for God to smoke, I suppose)
The blocks here are memory stones in a relationship wall, a Facebook timeline of our evolving experiences of “mother.” Inside these memories we are five, we are fifty, we are thirteen. Often in the course of one telephone conversation with her. Or in the way our patchworked hands reach for our kids.
A boundary-marking wall, a door-opening wall. Each block, a bit different in its materiality. Some are fading, some are strong and demanding. A bright turquoise shines from behind, a flexing light-giving life.
The mistakes she made with me pop up now on the backs of my hands, in the lines of my mouth. I sometimes find them in my bones. My reflection in the mirror dissolves into mystery, translucent overlays of my mother and her mother. Am I conflicted? Absolutely. I’m a card carrying member of the “deeply conflicted moms club.”
Go ahead and search the shelves of Target or Walmart for that perfect card. Find a Hallmark card that says, “I love you Mom, for all your cawing red blocks and the ones of whispering lavender. I love you for your brilliant turquoise soul. The one whose fingers now lift me.”
My kids will visit their checkered-past wall, and roll up their own prayers there. Prayers that they can someday be like me, prayers that they can be better.
My teacher asked me the other day about you. We were making cards. I said that you were a “special needs mom.” They say that kinda stuff about kids all the time at our school, but I think they mean the moms really.
If I had to pick a painting for you for Mother’s Day, I’d pick this one.
Because of the white bread and butter. The butter stick that you told me I can’t eat like a popsicle. I’m still mad about that, cause I can’t figure out why. It seems like a great idea to me.
I like this painting because it shows the middle part when you make me cinnamon toast — my all-time favorite breakfast. You taught me how to make it myself, but I’d rather have you do it. So I can watch my Lego movie, Clutch Powers.
I’ll try to eat it in the living room when you’re not looking. And I know that’s against the rules. You will probably find the crusts underneath the couch or between the cushions in a month or two, and make a fuss. But I can’t think about that right now cause it tastes sooo good and Clutch Powers is getting eaten by a Lego troll…
Happy Mom’s Day.
Your son (and my brothers too, but I think they would pick waffles)
It’s a showdown here, folks. Two serious contenders, abstraction vs. realism. We’re facing off today in Austin, TX on the field of High Yellow, speaking to Mr. Ellsworth Kelly. Pitting our need for representation against his refusal to represent. Gear up and let’s get it on. Winner takes all.
Round one: the obvious
Us: This is a minimalist landscape, the green is grass, the blue is sky and the yellow is that scorching beast of a Texas sun.
Kelly: This is greenness, this is blueness, this is yellowness.
Round Two: the memory
Us: Ok, then. This is the yellow ball that finally scored a hole-in-one at Peter Pan putt-putt golf in seventh grade. The night I finally kissed Bethany Mulhaney.
Kelly: This is greenness, this is blueness, this is yellowness.
Us: No fair, you’re using my distrust of simplicity against me. It’s complicated you know.
Round Three: the metaphysical gymnast
Us: This is about the possibility of purity, of perfection – both impossible in life.
This highlights the ironic equation of the cosmos, that blue + yellow=green, every time. But in life inputs rarely equal outputs, anytime.
This is a bridge where representation walks over into abstraction and surrenders to the veracity of color.
Kelly: LOL, this is so simple that it takes a genius to figure it out, huh?
Us: You really gonna trash talk me about this fat egg painting?
Her eyes caught mine and I stopped, mid-step on the crowded staircase at Wally Workman. It was love at first sight when I didn’t believe in love at first sight. An entrancing portrait by America Martin. With the kind of lines that make you want to pick it up and take it home. And that’s exactly what I did.
Her eyes turned my head. Like the frank, appraising eyes of this just ravished bather. She turns toward you with an open gaze, hand propping a tilted head.
And curves. Oh Lord, does she have ‘em. Double, double-take curves. This woman’s body moves across the canvas like sand dunes undulating, hips rolling before they touch the sea. Pretty peaks and delirious-deep valleys.
Color is a flirt here. At times, filling out the space between lines, emphasizing the form, stepping into the outline. At other times, color dances unrestrained by line. Now, a spontaneous moving into background, now a free-shift into foreground. Teasing out the feel of the piece. Creating a slip of ocean or angel-winged reeds.
This work makes you believe in possibility. You can have contentment and yes, maybe even mercurial joy. She calls out your hope, (even if kicking and screaming) and says,” look, it’s in you.” And that’s the seduction of a true pick up artist, my friends. Come and pick up a beauty before last call.