Cry, Cry, Cry

Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Onions, 1881. © Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute

Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Onions, 1881. © Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute

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.

Hanky panky

Still Life Ingredients 1976 by Patrick Caulfield

Still Life Ingredients 1976 by Patrick Caulfield, Tate Britain, England

Is it true? Sex starts in the kitchen? The men in my family are hardworking at the sink, and “dishwasher” was my partner’s first real job description. Suds and sponge. Then hanky-panky.

Since when has a scallion looked so sexy? How provocative the ladle. The redripe tomatoes in the corner set a beat, ready to groove.  A ravishing coral honeysuckle vase deserves a smooch or two.

Don’t miss the interplay of masculine and feminine here. Heavy black lines, stolid and strong, delineate the forms. Maybe taking themselves a bit too seriously.  Light blue leaves overlace the scene, frilling out the feminine qualities. Playful titillating.

It fact, I don’t think any cooking is happening tonight. Skip the kitchen and head for the bed. Dishes can wait.

An eye for pie

Alan Davie, 'My Heart for A Fruit, opus O.543A', May 1964, oil on board, 122 x 182 cms. From Gimpel Fils.

Alan Davie, 'My Heart for A Fruit, opus O.543A', May 1964, oil on board, From Gimpel Fils.

My heart for a fruit. Well that would have to be a blackberry. I’d give my heart for a pail of those, picked fresh from the piney woods. I know they are seedy and that’s a minus, but as a girl I would scour the brambled floor of the woods for them, eyes squinting though the gloom.

Maybe it’s the delectable joy of discovery, or the private burst of ripeness, intense and purplesweet. Maybe it’s the triumph of plucking the berry from under the prickly nosed thorns,unscathed. Not many would make it back to the kitchen, but those survivors would be plunked into a pie. With a squeeze of lemon juice and a heap of sugar.

I love this kitchen because it’s colorful and messy, improvisational. Because if you are a foodie, your kitchen is rarely clean. A sparkling kitchen both scares me and makes me sigh with joy. Scared, knowing that within a matter of minutes something will be dumped on the counter, thoughtlessly destroying perfection. Joyful, knowing there is a clean slate to tackle the daily cycle of mealtimes that would make even Sisyphus cry.

This still life is a happy chaos. Fresh and immediate.  However, Davie presses each contrasting element into unity using that blissful teal blue background. We could get nervous about that pile of motion on the left side, but the strong circles and curving lines soothe our visual palate.

I see a rolling pin and pie in this painting.  And a curved stick of butter, essential to every pastry (and meal for that matter – thank the French.) Butter and cream. But the nutritionists preach the need to eat colorfully. So why not – isn’t that a red strawberry pie sitting right there on the counter? Grab a fork.

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