The Red… and Time

People often ask why I feel compelled to draw and paint certain subjects, but not others. For example, why paint dilapidated, ugly old buildings instead of something attractive and beautiful? Something more picturesque? These are questions I’ve often asked myself. The answers are not always apparent, but sometimes reveal themselves gradually.

What first attracted me to this landscape in Barcelona on the Avinguda Diagonal many years ago was the bold red façade of the Cine Nuevo. (Color, or rather, my reaction to it, is something I don’t understand and can’t explain, so I can’t offer any insights about how colors attract or repel.)

Dia Nuevo 1 – Watercolor – 10 x 14 inches

Much more interesting, however, is what happens during the process of drawing and painting, a task that can take weeks, or months– or longer. For me drawing and painting are forms of meditation. Merely looking at something or taking a photograph of it feels insufficient. I don’t feel that I understand anything until I draw it.  Of course, the rub is that most things, a street scene, even a common daffodil, remain impervious to our understanding: they exist in their impenetrable “is-ness” in spite of our efforts to understand. Drawing and redrawing, painting and repainting them can bring us closer to their secrets, but we still live in a world of mysteries.

Only during the weeks spent painting Dia Nuevo, did I begin to understand that what had attracted me intuitively to the scene, in addition to the red façade, were layers of Time: Look at the hollowed-out shell of the old theatre in the middle ground. When it was built in 1922, it was “new.” Now it’s a relic of another century. Equally past is the New Cinema, obsolete as well, but from a later era. The tattered posters plastered on the walls advertising concerts were also “new” weeks or months ago; now they are old. The parked cars were once new; now they’re not. The low angle of the light tells us that it’s morning– a new day, un Día Nuevo. But in a few hours, it won’t even be today; it will be yesterday.

The awareness of these layers of “pasts” that I made visible in the present of the painting was not the cause or the inspiration of the painting; rather the awareness of Time grew gradually out of the act of painting, the meditation. In attempting to paint the texture of stone, the papery fragility of the posters, the morning light on the sidewalks, I discovered layers of Time.  Or better said, in the act of painting, the layers of Time discovered me.


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