Beauford Delaney Close Looking
Thursday, April 23, 2020
I had about a half an hour with it. The kind people who work at the Art Institute of Chicago had arranged an appointment. It was in the director’s suite, behind an administrator, who typed away at her computer while I was looking and photographing. Which is by way of saying that the impression of calm is hard-won, mostly due to the painting, and to efforts of concentration.
What a painting.
It’s 21 x 26 inches (53.3 by 66 cm). A little taller than it is wide, a painting you could put your arms around. Here I photographed it in six sections, with the edges of frame.
On seeing it, I was struck by the quality of the paint, thin and dry, which I think helps the layers to show through, many thin translucent layers.
Standing quietly, you can trace the way each gesture in paint leads under and over others. You could paint over it, add layers, but it would be difficult to change the foundations, because it is an all-over painting, in free strokes. You could not scrape off an area you wanted to paint again. So it is an oil painting like a watercolor – you just lay it down.
Which isn't to say it was quickly done. Delaney reworked his water colors a lot, returning to them sometimes years later. If he did that kind of long-term reconsideration with this painting, he would have had to continue to work with what’s already there. His abstract paintings held the record of his thoughts about them in an unusually transparent way.
Painted in 1965. He had been in Paris for twelve years, and was now very experienced in a realm of complete abstraction.
Impressions of radiance and gentleness.
I think I started thinking of this painting today partly because I am tetchy, and also sad.
And partly because the tonalities that I came to yesterday in thinking about Poussin’s Landscape with St. John on Patmos are close by. See the striking similarity in palette and quality of light to this area of the Poussin:
How much variety there may be among a handful of colors, closely held.
But really I just want to stop my busy typing and let you look.
Here, the whole painting again, just before taking leave.
Weekend Glimpse Cézanne
Frederick Project: Glimpse
Saturday, April 11, 2020
It is the weekend again, and I am leaving a few images from a Cézanne still life at the Fogg Art Museum in Cambridge, Massachusetts for anyone who might pass by and be in need of a fine green, a modulating brown, yellow apples, and a sense of achieved stability.
Wishing you peace, health, tranquility, resolve.
Sunday, July 30, 2017
My cousin Sophie is dying. She is ninety. It seems likely that she will die today, and I hurry to write those words to use the present tense one last time. We were with her, all of us, at different moments in the last couple of weeks. My mother is there now.
Sophie loved painting. She took painting classes in New York in the 1960s when she lived there, and there are still many of her paintings, some on squares of canvas with a cardboard backing, some directly on cardboard. They seem insubstantial, but they have held up for fifty years. She used a paint called caesin, which, a painter once told me, is actually quite a good paint, now mostly discontinued, and this has preserved the vividness of her choices of colors. She admired Marsden Hartley, always had a Marsden Hartley still life up in her small apartments, and, from the look of this picture, which I had not seen until last week, Cézanne.
Maybe it is a very good painting and maybe it is only wonderful to us. I did not have time to tell. But perhaps I would not even be able to tell if I spent a lot of time with it. I like the hot colors, the purples and oranges of a Bonnard, and I like the odd declivities between the shapes, all jumbled together, but not really impinging on one another. This was like Sophie, she had delight in color, saw no need for fussy restraint, and she was always unto herself, even when generous with other people. She was self-contained, but not elusive, she had an independent presence that I recognize in the objects she has painted.
I am sitting in the garden, a midsummer garden in which every plant bears a different combination of different shades of green, each unto itself, the whole so harmonious. Our daughter, whose middle name is Sophie, is behind me, sitting on the wooden steps, secluded under the arch of vines, reading a book. There will be a phone call, perhaps in a few minutes. A painting may say, now, we are here.
Sophie Degan died early in the morning of August 1st. May she rest in peace.