Intimate Strangers

At first glance there’s a lot information to pay attention to — an expanse of water, boats, a wharf, and the harbor on the far side of the bay. At first glance we probably notice the woman. But the man? At first glance they don’t seem to be aware of each other. Is this a scene in a film in which they could possibly meet, might come together as friends, or lovers? Or do they already know each other and are breaking apart?

The setting of this painting is the harbor of La Coruña on the Atlantic coast in northern Spain. But is the actual location and the characters as important as the context itself: a bright morning in early July?

Another thought: At the time I painted the scene, I wasn’t aware of the following lines from an untitled poem by Pablo Neruda:

The one who only wanted to be loved

at least once, with the ghost of a kiss,

turns cold and aloof, and doesn’t look at the girl

who was waiting for him, open and unhappy.

La Lancha – Oil/canvas – 24 x 32 inches

Now, many years later, it’s difficult not to think of the poem. But now I also  find myself wondering about something else: If the woman and man were not present, how different would the painting be?  Their presence might be simply incidental. Perhaps — as often happens in life — they are only minor characters in a larger picture. Our lives and loves are vitally important to us, but in a more expansive drama, the sun will rise and its light will sparkle on the surfaces of oceans whether we are here, or there, or not.

Questions, ambiguities. I wonder: is being content with not having answers  a form of perfection, just as it should be?

One thought to “Intimate Strangers”

  1. I think I told you once about my mis-hearing of a Dylan line from “Tangled up in blue.” Mis-hearing is what some folks call a “Mondegreen.” Well, my mis-hearing was of the verse: “Split up on a dark sad night / both agreeing it was best.” What I heard was “Split up on the docks that night.” I rather like the misunderstood lyric, and now it seems to have come home to roost for me in your painting and accompanying speculative story.

    There’s a powerful hawser holding the “lancha” to the wharf, but the woman’s face is turned away, and the man’s back seems turned against the past. And once the benches of the “lancha” are filled with other passengers, the rope will be released, and the boat will move on.

    “And when in time the bottom fell out
    I became withdrawn
    The only thing I knew how to do
    Was to keep on keepin’ on
    Like a bird that flew.
    Tangled up in blue.”

    As seems to happen in many of your paintings, you have set yourself many difficult technical obstacles, and you’ve overcome them all: the superb detail of the stones of the wharf, the perspective, which is realized with remarkable precision in all of the details, the “framing” of the castle/customs house inside posts of the boat, the smokey horizon, the detailed ribs of the roof of the “lancha.” Well, also, the atmosphere, the ambiguity.

    I might not have noticed the man but for your speculation, and I appreciate the thoughts on the beauty of ambiguity. “Being content with not having answers.” Art, the arts make that possible. Not just acceptance but an open embrace of that which is indeterminate. “Just as it should be.” Indeed.

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