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Archive for May 22nd, 2010

By Chance

My friend Marion S. has been painting and writing all her long life.  She enjoys working alone as well as in a group.  She experiments with formal, abstract ideas and also from the figure. In 2002, when she was eighty-six, she was in a painting workshop at the Renaissance Society at the Cultural Center.  At the end of a class one day when it was time to wrap up she placed a piece of cellophane over the scrap of heavy paper she had been using to mix paints and try out brush strokes.  There was enough paint on it to make this worthwhile since she would go home and continue working on her painting.  When she got home she propped up her painting in her work space and laid out her brushes and rags on her work table.  She pulled off the cellophane from the scrap paper.  She paused.  She had not paid any attention to this scrap paper before.  After all, it was just a surface for slopping paint around in preparation for working on her real painting.  Now she looked at it.  A face emerged. It had a clear contour, a hair line and a hint of a delicate hat, a nose, lips and an ochre shadow cast by the eyebrow ridge.  The face looked up out of some sumptuous red shawl. She dipped a brush into cerulean blue and dabbed in the irises.  She framed it.  It continues to be a source of inspiration to her.  And for me, whenever I come to visit.

Why is this worth thinking about?  Why would this scrap of paper with its unplanned blobs of paint be a source of inspiration?  Do you have to be a modernist to get it?   Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) who has been called an engineer with a side line in painting because he filled his notebooks with diagrams of anatomical, mechanical and architectural structures, this Leonardo also writes in his notebooks that he is fascinated by accidental occurrences. He passes a wall, he tells us, where water has dripped down from the roof and stained the plaster and he will stand there, loosing all sense of time, utterly captivated by these irrational shapes.  They fire up his imagination.  Kenneth Clark wrote about that in The Blot and the Diagram

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