28 Aug Stillness
In the midst of movement and chaos, keep stillness inside of you.
— Deepak Chopra
Still life derives from the 17th century Dutch word stilleven, a collective name for paintings depicting objects like fruit, flowers, food, and everyday household items.
Still-life paintings are magical, I believe, because they tear us away from our chaotic lives just long enough to reveal that we’re witnesses to the extraordinary.
The Dutch were hardly the first to enjoy still-life paintings. Ancient Egyptians adorned their tombs with them; Ancient Romans, their villas. Due to the ageless demand by collectors for still-life paintings, they have been steadily produced by artists as diverse in style as da Vinci, Brueghel, Chardin, Manet, Matisse, Cezanne, Picasso, Braque, Morandi , Warhol and Freud.
My studio is arranged to goad me to produce daily still lifes—three- or four-hour outputs that depict commonplace things that both intrigue and comfort me; that are welcomed as guests in my home (at least for a while); and that I believe would be welcomed into collectors’ homes, too.
While the pandemic has cost many lives and livelihoods, it’s been a boon to me, because the “used goods” market is awash with wonderful objects people are selling at rock-bottom prices, simply to make ends meet. Only yesterday, I bought a Sid Luck original out of a woman’s garage—she’s been laid off by a medical equipment manufacturer—for ten bucks. You can bet that Veridian jug will show up soon in at least one of my still lifes.
So in the midst of “movement and chaos,” I’m managing well. Covid has been kind to me—so far.
Oddly enough, pandemics and depressions have been kind to artists in the past.
Titian, the “master of Venetian painting,” did all his finest work during the Black Death, which—sadly—he fell victim to. Jan van Eyck, who for all purposes invented oil painting, perfected his craft while that plague still lingered throughout Europe. Edvard Munch painted while suffering from the Spanish Flu, even completing Self-Portrait after The Spanish Flu in 1919. Diego Rivera blossomed during the Great Depression, while at the same time Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko discovered precisely how and what to paint, thanks in part to financial help through FDR’s Works Progress Administration.