Tricks that Shadows play

Bottles &Jars #9, watercolor on paper, 2012, 15 x 22 inches

Bottles &Jars #9, watercolor on paper, 2012, 15 x 22 inches

“Every artist knows that there is no such thing as “freedom” in art. The first thing an artist does when he begins a new work is to lay down the barriers and limitations; he decides upon a certain composition, a certain key, a certain relation of creatures or objects to each other. He is never free, and the more splendid his imagination, the more intense his feeling, the farther he goes from general truth and general emotion.

Nobody can paint the sun. or sunlight. He can only paint the tricks that shadows play with it, or what it does to forms. He cannot even paint those relations of light and shade – he can only paint some emotion they give him, some man-made arrangement of them that happens to give him personal delight – a conception of clouds over distant mesas (or over the towers of St. Sulpice) that makes one nerve in him thrill and tremble. At bottom all he can give you is the thrill of his own poor little nerve – the projection in paint of a fleeting pleasure in a certain combination of form and color as temporary and almost as physical as a taste on the tongue.”

– Willa Cather, Light on Adobe Walls


Hand me that pot

Josefina Guilisasti, La Vigilia-detail, 2001 Blanton Museum, Austin, Texas

Josefina Guilisasti, La Vigilia-detail, 2001 Blanton Museum, Austin, Texas

Recently, one of my helpful in-laws (who shall remain anonymous) charred my favorite stock pot, while cooking in my kitchen. . . reminded me of Josefina’s piece (my fav) at the Blanton Museum in Austin, Texas. I’ve been scrubbing my sad pot for days, and it occurred to me that I could simply choose another from these shelves and chuck the whole mess. So choose mug, take a seat, and I’ll pour you a cup of La Vigilia.

La Vigilia (Vigil), a collection of seventy-two oils, each tucked into a cubby of twelve Ikea style bookcases. The twelve different pots and utensils are life-size, each painted six times with a different perspective/shadow.  Each perspective corresponds to the height of the shelf it sits on. And here comes the fun part. The shelves themselves cast shadows that banter with the painted shadows on the canvas.  A cozy-intellectual, game of shadows. A Puzzle of pots.  Painting. Sculpture. Shadow.

This piece speaks of “home” to me  and warmth, although it reads grayscale. Intriguing. These normally utilitarian items, carefully elevated and precisely glorified en mass.

For each one, memories of my steam-kissed mother or grandmother, stirring. Spoons tasting over the stove, back and forth checking the oven.   My grandfather’s sink vigil,  baptizing dishes, washing their stain away. And I contemplate the meaning of home.  What makes us leave it, what draws us back from far places. Memories like water, fill these vessels.  Which pots do we keep of our “home” which do we forge anew.  Arranging new values with old traditions in our own family’s collage. And then the shade Time wields its brush of shadows.

My dreams are like your vigils.      Jorge Luis Borges


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