The Dialogue of Paint
September 13, 2014 § Leave a comment
Columbus, Ohio has the distinction of being the birthplace of one of America’s most distinguished artists, George Bellows. On a recent trip to the Columbus Museum of Art to see an exhibition that honored this native son, I was taken, as usual, by the way the man “speaks” with his brush. If you stand too far away from the paintings, as most people do, you will miss one of the most engaging aspects of his painting: the lively dialogue between the marks and patches of paint.
Bellows was as much a sculptor as he was a painter. His paintings are like bas-reliefs. A blind person could enjoy them with only the sense of touch, so energetic, varied and inventive are their painted surfaces. To fully appreciate and absorb this crucial dimension of painting you have to put yourself in front of the actual object. You can’t get it from a computer screen. A reproduction reveals only the inventory, as it were. But it’s only by being there, in-person and up close, that you begin to put together an understanding of HOW painters think and how they MOVE. In the presence of the visual-tactile evidence you can glean how paintings are physically made, what marks lie on top and what is coming from underneath, how edges are defined or blurred. You enlarge your vocabulary. You learn just how varied are the ways that form can be shaped. This is a body of knowledge that has been passed down from painter to painter for centuries, and as convenient as it is these days to have everything at our fingertips online, this knowledge can’t be downloaded in a jpeg or pdf file. It only takes the eye a few minutes to absorb it, but you have to be there.