Interior Invite- Into the Enfilade-
Updated: 4 days ago
Finding Awe in the Quotidian-
"Everyday Epihanies" is how one could sum up the essence of genre painting. And the Dutch Golden age is- well, the gold standard of this type of painting. The new book, "Awe" by Dacher Keltner was recently reviewed in the The Wall Street Journal with the description of epiphanies of the common experiences noted. I loved this concise description, as it is so pertinent to the process and aesthetic of genre painting. Rather than lofty, ethereal, spiritual, or the art of social commentary- the everyday is humble and yet revealing and rewarding.
I just finished an interior painting (shown above) in the tradition of De Hooch, Vermeer and other Dutch Masters of the Golden Age. It was an ambitious painting as it was so complex and it involved a lot of details, drawing and attention to relationships of space, form and color. Let's take color as a starting point.
The working title for this paintng is "Interior Etude in Blue and Gold- Henry's First Ride." Long titles and double titles seem to cover any given work more fully and I often use them to address a couple of themes a painting may encompass. The blue and gold (or yellow) of this work seems to represent a predominant color theme that unified the work. There was a cool bluish light of the late afternoon coming in from the windows and doors to the left. There was also a window in the kitchen behind and one in the living room, where the still life was set- showing light from the right. The subject here is a moment during the Christmas season, with Linda, her grandson Henry and her daughter. They are giving Henry his first ride on an antique rocking horse.
The assorted lights in the work served to augment the color scheme as there were lights of various temperatures- a couple of incandescent lights in the room with the figures and a spot light used on the still life. The ceilings in both of the rooms became studiies in themselves - offering theatres for the subltle reflected lights to create patterns and subtle shifts of hue and temperature.
The title of this essay, using the term "enfilade" refers to the compositonal device used by those painters of Holland when they employed a succession of rooms leading back into space. The enfilade is employed in this painting too- with the still life in ther front room, the figures in the middle room and finally the a view through a door into the kitchen.
As I was reading about Vermeer and having recently returned from Amsterdam where we absorbed the beauty of those painters of Holland at the Rijksmusuem and the Maurithuis Museum- these paitings were very much in my mind. The new show, a retropective of Vermeers work is now up at the Rijksmusuem. Almost every week for the past few months there has been a review in most of the American publications. And for good reason, the paintings are exquisite. The down side is that the tickets for the show have sold out- in fact they went fast.
But having those works in mind, while painting is a double-edged sword, as the beauty and virtuosity can be inspiring yet humbling too. Take for example the articulation of form and modeling in those amazing canvases of Vermeer- done with infnite gradations of value and hue. These expressions, although highly refined are at the same time seemingly spontaneous. The daubs of paint and brushwork evident in Vermeers work allows us appreciate the beauty of paint, while the strokes deftly describe the forms. These scintillating applications of paint are sometimes referred to as halations and suggest the effects derived from the use of a camera obscura, which is an early version a photographic device. I've also learned that he may have used two mirrors set up strategically to reflect the scene (and thereby correcting the reversal of mirrors) and distilling the image into simplified light and dark patterns as well. Whatever his methods, the result was art. During the process of painting my interior shown here, I was thinking of Vermeer's Milkmaid and or The Geometer or the little painitng from the NGA in DC of the woman holding a measuring scale in her hands. Needless to say, I was coming up short. I could have spent a few more months on this work, but as a show is coming up in Corning, NY at the West End Gallery, I need to get a few more works done.
The book "Awe" by Keltner promises to augment and support the idea of finding delight in the quotidian. And depictions of the quotidian are at the core of the subjects of these Dutch artists of the 17th century. The book by Keltner therefore is a human potential or self-help type of work that seeks to benefit us in our everyday lives and dilute some of the angst and anxiety inherent in the day to day. There's a Buddhist concept comes to mind that seems to fit in here, that being Duhkha or suffering. Suffering in its broader meaning can simply mean dissatisfaction, unpleasantness and frustration. And it does not take long to see how there are so many low-grade dissatisfactions along with major annoyances to real health issues or even things like death, war and politics. So any approach that adds some appreciation and gratefulness seems well positioned and needed for us all.
We think of joy, mirth, elation, love and many other emotions that draw us up and offer us a glimpse of our higher self. The Dutch Golden age works offered a flourishing of aspiration that showed us how the moments and occurences that we live with are replete with potential. Often overlooked or discounted, we can think of these works of the 17th century as offering an accessible alternative to the images of glory and angels of Catholic art that preceded it.
Here is a quote from Keltner's book, Awe, that indicates where he's going.
"Fun like awe, is one of several self-transcendant states, a space of emotions that transport us out of our self-focused and threat-oriented, status quo mind set to a realm where we can connect to something larger than the self. Joy, the feeling of being free, for the moment of worldly concerns, is part of this space, of ecstasy (or bliss), when we sense ourself dissolve completely (in awe we remain aware although fantly, of our selves.) And fun, the mirth and lighthearted delight we feel when imagining alternative perspectives upon our mundane lives we so often take far too seriously."
The power of and salubrious aspects of art were wonderfully expounded upon in a recent NY Times article by David Brooks- who is also a weekly commentator on the Public Broadcast Service (PBS). The title of Brooks' article was, "The Power of Art in a Political Age." He finds art a much needed balm for the soul. As his job is to address the partisan infighting and world turmoil on a daily schedule, he must find a way to ameliorate the stress. Art of course comes in many forms, from a novel, to a concert, movie or a play.
Here's what Brooks said to lead off his opinion piece.
" Sometimes feel I’m in a daily struggle not to become a shallower version of myself. The first driver of shallowization is technology, the way it shrinks attention span, fills the day with tempting distractions. The second driver is the politicization of everything. Like a lot of people, I spend too much of my time enmeshed in politics — the predictable partisan outrages, the campaign horse race analysis, the Trump scandal du jour.
So I’m trying to take countermeasures. I flee to the arts." The process of painting takes the momentary revelatons into a more prolonged engagement. Those fleeting moments must be elaborated upon. And this takes time. So the challenge of incorporating the mission of sharing these moments becomes a new endeavor to be true to the dictum. There is however, inherent in painting, as there is with any discipline, the need to sustain the effort and be true to the philosophy of art for arts sake. To put it more succinctly, as we portray the fugitive effects of light or the enchantment of composing we must practice what we preach.
There is a maxim in painting of making the work complete at each stage. We know there is a long road with miles to go in a given painting, but enjoying the process at each stage is part of the mission.
To view a video documntary of the final stages of this painting go to this link-