Saturday, May 8, 2010

Soft Eyes

I’m actually not going to write about Julia Roberts -- but I’m glad I got your attention. What I want to write about is a different kind of “soft eyes.” It’s a way to look at paintings, especially paintings involved with spatial illusions and the interaction of color.  To experience this type of painting -- to allow the illusions to happen -- I believe it’s necessary to look with “soft eyes.” That is, to look with passive receptivity, without focusing on any one thing, to pay gentle attention to peripheral as well as central vision, to allow the distinction between figure and ground to dissolve by, as it were, looking through the painting.

I know this sounds atypically Zen for me, and in fact it is a concept taught in Aikido,  but also Neuro-Linguistic Programming and equestrianismIn addition, my old friend, the physiologist and psychologist, the late Ed Wortz (LA shrink to the art stars) told me once that your eyes dilate when you look at someone you love, and that’s why loved ones seem to glow. I think “soft eyes” is a similar phenomenon -- it’s like falling in love.   

CLAUDE MONET, Les Bassin aux nymphéas
1917-1919, Oil on canvas, 39 1/4 x 78 3/4 inches

I bring this up now because I just fell in love -- with the show Claude Monet, Late Work at the Gagosian Gallery (until June 26th). Yes, the same gallery that gave us the great Pablo Picasso, Mosqueteros show last year (Larry is such a show off!).   These are paintings of light and space. Colors breath and interact with adjacent colors, making them appear brighter and sometimes changing their hue. Figure and ground, especially in the latest paintings, the Nymphéas, are ambiguous to the point where they sometimes merge. Even our point of view -- where we are in space relative to the image -- is confusing. Are we floating above the waterlilies? Looking through them? Looking at a reflection? There is very little to grasp and hold on to here -- you just have to let go and love them.  
CLAUDE MONET, Nymphéas, 1914-1917, 
Oil on canvas, 59 x 78 3/4 inches

1 comment:

Kyle Gallup Turner said...

Is there anyone today, painting as well as Monet?

The paintings at Gagosian Gallery draw the viewer in. Landscapes without sky, without horizon line that sing through their color and touch. I'm in love too--

We can't forget that Monet is the first one to make these beauties. They are completely his creation.
It's not like some of the best painters today whose work relies on past styles or known models and understood spacial structures that have been around for many years in the form of other famous works. Much fine contemporary painting fits into tidy categories; abstract expressionism, formalism, minimalism, pop etc.

Monet's last paintings push past what he himself understood and felt comfortable with, letting go of the spatial illusion that make the earlier water lily paintings so gorgeous, so ethereal. The surface becomes a crusty, dark, abstraction. As a viewer I could feel Monet's absorption in his subject as if he is one with what he is looking at.