Bowl with Stovetop

Bowl with Stovetop, oil on linen, 12″ x 18″

From Hushed Reverberations, my two-person exhibition with Karl Heerdt at Oxford Gallery, Rochester, NY, from March 17 through April 21. Reception from 5:30 to 7:30 on March 24.

Blues, Browns, and Gray

Blues, Browns, and Gray, oil on linen, 10″ x 16″

From Hushed Reverberations, my two-person exhibition with Karl Heerdt at Oxford Gallery, Rochester, NY, from March 17 through April 21. Reception from 5:30 to 7:30 on March 24.

Early Summer Flowers

Begonias and Dahlias, 26” x 52”, oil on linen.

From Hushed Reverberations, my two-person exhibition with Karl Heerdt at Oxford Gallery, Rochester, NY, from March 17 through April 21. Reception from 5:30 to 7:30 on March 24.


Belle and Blue Bottle

Belle and Blue Bottle, oil on panel, 18″ x 18″

From Hushed Reverberations, my two-person exhibition with Karl Heerdt at Oxford Gallery, Rochester, NY, from March 17 through April 21. Reception from 5:30 to 7:30 on March 24.

The Raft of the Painter

Tribute #2, Tom Insalaco

Tom Insalaco is a bit of a phantom. After six decades of making art, this award-winning painter continues to create new art every day, but he makes little additional effort to prove that he exists. In a world where social media has become the latest addictive drug and the new hothouse for growing a career, he shuns publicity and refuses to promote himself. A Google search turns up almost nothing about him, except for the samples of his work at Oxford Gallery’s website. He has no website of his own. He has a Gmail address, but insists that he doesn’t know how to use it. At midnight, sometimes, he steals onto the Internet but leaves everything as he found it. He watches art documentaries on YouTube or Netflix, or clicks around to discover another contemporary painter to admire or to see what’s happening at his favorite Manhattan galleries, but he signs off without leaving a public trail. Though he’s as prolific as ever, the Internet has yet to recognize his existence—which means almost no one has access to his five decades of work.[1]

At the age of 75, he rarely enters exhibitions though for decades he has been repeatedly invited into the Memorial Art Gallery’s biennial Rochester/Finger Lakes Exhibition, widely considered the most prestigious show for visual artists throughout New York State west of the Catskills. More often than not, he wins one of the exhibition’s awards. Not long ago, he contacted that museum and asked how many times he had been included in the Finger Lakes show. (He doesn’t keep count of his honors.) He was put on hold for a bit, and the woman returned with a note of surprise in her voice, telling him that he was the single most exhibited artist in the exhibition’s history. His first inclusion was back when he was in graduate school at Rochester Institute of Technology in 1969. Since that phone call, he hasn’t heard from anyone at MAG suggesting maybe it’s time to offer the public a long-overdue Insalaco retrospective. He remains mostly under the radar because he’s too busy making art to worry about whether or not anyone sees it.

His exhibitions have been few and far between, but they have been distinguished. He achieved modest regional fame throughout the state after he completed his monumental Tribute Triptych in the early 90s in reaction to the random murder of his brother. A show was initially organized around it by Finger Lakes Community College, Gallery 1100 in Buffalo and Alfred University. By entering each of these three large paintings serially into different Rochester Finger Lakes exhibitions, he won the top prize three shows in a row. In 1995, the same triptych was the centerpiece of his contribution to a three-artist show along with William Stanley Taft, Jr. and Jerome Witkin. The show featured Witkin’s suite of paintings about Buchenwald alongside Insalaco’s work. In 1996, the triptych made its way into the New York State Biennial at the New York State Museum—participating museums included Albright-Knox, Brooklyn Museum, Memorial Art Gallery, Munson-Williams-Proctor, Queens Museum of Art, and College Art Gallery at SUNY New Paltz. Insalaco’s paintings were shown with work by a small selection of artists from around the state, including Joy Taylor, Stephen Assael, George Wexler, Elizabeth Olbert, and Phil Lonergan. His paintings have also been shown at Everson Museum of Art in Syracuse and the Butler Institute of Art in Ohio, which owns his work. After he retired from a 30-year career of teaching at SUNY/Finger Lakes Community College, the school named its art gallery after him, along with his fellow professor and close friend, sculptor Wayne Williams, who founded the school’s art program along with Insalaco in 1969.

Yet these honors have been rare, partly because Insalaco shuns the art world. He views it with irascible skepticism, casting a gimlet eye on much of what passes for visual art in the 21st century. He paints like an Old Master, without any required postmodern irony to make his antiquated methods feel contemporary. Once upon a time, he worked with great skill as a photo-realist in the wake of that movement’s emergence in the 70s. It was directly after this, in his middle period, as it were, that he constructed vivid visions of his own inner life, painstakingly detailed and realistic, both surreal and Baroque, a visual truce between the 20th and the 17th century. His Tribute Triptych, 104” x 248,” marked this leap forward in his work. At the time, these paintings drew the interest of both curators and critics across the state. Insalaco was poised to become far more widely known. But since then, he withdrew and continued to work mostly out of view. He still paints daily, by artificial light—all windows shuttered or curtained—chasing the glow of Rembrandt, Rubens, and Caravaggio, for the most part, still trying to make mysteries visible, but in a less epic way than in the past.



Insalaco isn’t a reactionary. He loves and admires much modern and contemporary art. He regularly books a room in Manhattan and tours both the museums and the galleries, sometimes putting in a week to absorb what he needs to see. In his own idiosyncratic way, he cherry-picks MORE

Meaningful form

Robert Frost, 1874-1963

From the Robert Hughes documentary on Robert Frost, A Lover’s Quarrel with the World, filmed in the last year of Frost’s life, recently shown on PBS. He talks using the vocabulary of his poetry, the simplest and most elemental language, words as clear as a mountain creek in conversation, and they seem to be just as clear in the poems, though so often they withhold as much as they reveal. His lines are as inexhaustible as Emily Dickinson’s, plain-spoken but sometimes as tough to open up as a koan. The notion of withdrawal here is so resonant as well as the comparison of writing poetry to chopping down a tree or cutting grass–wresting order and form from the world. Hayden Cayruth, in a University of Rochester workshop I attended many years ago, spoke about how the act of writing generates an almost physical pleasure, and that wrestling with words for him actually seemed like a physical task. So much of painting is exactly that: an almost entirely physical, form-making engagement with the world that somehow generates meaning. Does anyone know how that happens? Frost always said he had no idea what a poem would say when he started, but as he worked on it, he followed the words where they led, like ice on a hot stove riding its own melting. The meaning arose from the act of making it, not the other way around.

From the documentary, a few of Frost’s thoughts on poetry, but they might as well be about painting:

Never do it to pay a bill. Because you probably won’t. It comes to market in the long run, but you can’t write it that way. The only self-conscious thought I ever have is “this seems to be going pretty good!” Another step, “still going!” It’s like skating on thin ice when you might go through. Once I’m going, I think it’s like starting a sled at the top of a hill and it goes hard to start but you get right over that gritty place and . . . she goes. We don’t escape. That’s a word I loathe. But retreat. You retreat for strength. You aren’t brought up in the right religion if you don’t know what retreat is. You withdraw . . . I’ve often said that every poem solves something for me in life. I go so far as to say that every poem is a momentary stay against the confusion of the world. But of course any psychiatrist will tell you making a basket or making a horseshoe or giving anything form gives you confidence in the universe, that it has form. When you talk about your troubles, you’re a fool. The best way to settle them is to make something that has form. All that makes you healthy and well is the feeling that there is some sort of poem to your business, your occupation. Two or three of my favorite things are a scythe, a hayfork and a fountain pen.

From the archive

Gateway to a Dream, acrylic on canvas, 46″ x 42″

Bill Santelli is going to be offering his fans a ride in the wayback machine at Maker’s Gallery starting this Saturday. From the Archive will offer a glimpse of Santelli’s work from 1992 through 2000. An opening reception for the exhibit will be from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. on the 10th. I’ve been liking many samples of his earlier work lately on Instagram. It will be a pleasure to see the real thing.

Hey, look at me

The comedian and podcast host, Kevin Pollack, says that every good comedian has a bad case of hey-look-at-me-disease. Lesser strains of this malady are common throughout the arts, I think, for better or worse. One thing is certain, social media isn’t the cure.

It’s a truth universally acknowledged that great artists are often self-absorbed. Social media requires us to at least appear to be obsessed with ourselves. But at some point we end up serving this system rather than the other way around—posting everything we do as nourishment for our insatiable “feed.” Being aware of this, I tend to post my latest painting or exhibition with reluctance on Facebook and Instagram, because I think twenty years from now people will look back on this whole phenomenon and think: “How tiresome.” All of this is partly why it took so long for me to write my last post about the recognition I received from Manifest last year–doesn’t this get annoying for some readers?

In a way, the whole social media game is a sweetheart deal for those of us who don’t have mass followings on the Web. It becomes a game of I’ll-like-you-if-you-like-me. (Granted, it isn’t all a mutual schmooze. Most “likes” are sincere.) But social media’s basic OS is reciprocity. You click on other peoples’ like buttons as much as possible to prime the pump for likes in return. Yet isn’t that the definition of an echo chamber? I love coming across an artist now and then for whom I can find no Instagram account.  And, ironically, it was refreshing when a now well-known art site that started up a few years ago wrote and asked me to link to their home page, as a way of increasing their rank on Google searches—it was honest and forthright. And I was genuinely impressed with what they were doing. But my attitude is a lot less calculating–I put my work and my thoughts about it out there so that people will discover them if they come looking or else just stumble across it. But hashtags and SEO optimizing search words? It’s never too late to start, I guess. But not today.

FLCC’s 50th anniversary

Wayne Williams, left, and Tom Insalaco at their new gallery space circa 1973

At 2 p.m., on Feb. 1, Tom Insalaco and Wayne Williams are going to talk about making art over the past half century in an anniversary event at Finger Lakes Community College. The discussion will be held in the campus gallery named after them. It should be interesting, because they’re both distinctive characters with an independent and occasionally refreshing, iconoclastic view of the art world today. It would be worth attending even if they talked about nothing but the ways in which things have changed for artists since these two began thinking seriously about art more than fifty years ago. The photograph above was taken at their gallery space at 34 S. Main St., in Canandaigua, NY. Barron Naegel will moderate the conversation as part of a larger celebration of the college’s 50th Anniversary. The school opened its first classes on Feb. 1, 1968 as Community College of the Finger Lakes.

Other celebrations of the school’s birthday will include a time capsule to be buried in May and dug up in 2068, and a 124-page commemorative book “This Bold Decision: The Story of Finger Lakes Community College.” The discussion at Williams-Insalaco Gallery 34 will inaugurate an exhibit of work by professors and their students: “Mentors and Mentees: Celebrating 50 Years.”

The show will include work by Insalaco, Williams—both of whom are now retired—as well as work by Rand Darrow, Jeff Feinen, Peter Gerbic, John Lord, Don McWilliams, Bill Santelli, Jean Stephens and Debra Stewart.

Call 585-785-1623 or visit for information.

Thanks, Manifest

Anamorph, Jason Ferguson

I’m pleased to be able to point to a couple fine honors that Manifest Gallery bestowed on me late last year. I haven’t gotten to posting about this yet in detail because I’ve been immersed in the tunnel of labor required for the paintings I’m going to show in March at Oxford Gallery. Even with marathon painting sessions, the crop of new paintings looks very thin indeed for the sum total of new work since my show in 2015. (A couple non-painting projects stole probably a third of my time in that period, which hopefully is the last time I’ll need to pull myself away from painting to that degree.) But I think my efforts were rewarded well in at least some of these pieces. One of them in particular is the most successful painting I’ve ever done, in terms of exhibition history, awards and now a sale, prior to the show: Breakfast with Golden Raspberries.  It’s the reason for one of the honors Manifest sent my way.

First of all, my work was included in Manifest Gallery’s 8th International Painting Annual.  For fourteen years, this non-profit in Cincinnati has operated as a hub for artists around the world, enabling them to exhibit without regard for the vagaries of the art market and trends in critical theory about what’s worthy in art. Its jurors are volunteer experts in art and design from across the United States, including professors, working artists, curators, gallery directors, and others qualified and trusted to provide sound objective judgment of the works provided. They cull through a flood of entries for each show and publication the gallery sponsors, winnowing entries down to the fraction it will include—the process is tough, meaning for even very good artists the opportunities are narrow. There’s a wealth of masterful work being done, and too few ways to get it seen and purchased, at least until the Internet eventually lives up to his promise. In the meantime, Manifest serves an almost unique function, and is held in high regard by nearly everyone I know in the art community.

Its 8th annual received 1301 entries, from nearly 400 artists, working in eight countries. The book will include 101 works by 59 of those artists. I haven’t been alerted yet about which of my entries, or which one, was picked.

The second honor was more unusual and represents a new prize offered by the gallery: being selected as a finalist for The Annual Manifest Grand Jury Prize. Jason Ferguson’s Anamorph won the $2,500 prize, a self-portrait of sorts, a 3D printed plastic sculpture derived from  CT scans of the artist’s own skull,  originally featured in Manifest’s exhibition SCHEMA. My painting was among 40 works by 38 artists chosen as a finalist from a pool of 8,453 separate works submitted for consideration to be included in 20 group and 10 solo exhibitions during the gallery’s 13th season. For this prize, the Manifest organization created a competitive winnowing process to select the best single work out of everything exhibited at the gallery throughout the previous year.  Here’s what Manifest announced:

Starting with our 13th season, Manifest has launched a new annual cash award of $2500. The Annual Manifest Grand Jury Prize is a seasonal capstone recognition awarded to one work from among all those exhibited on-site at the gallery across the season. The first Grand Jury Prize is currently considering works exhibited at Manifest from late September 2016 through mid-September 2017.

The jurying process was conducted ‘blind’ without reference to the artist’s personal info, location, or background. Each jury usually consists of at least 5 jurors, and sometimes more than 10. Jury groups are shuffled and changed from exhibit to exhibit, so a pattern does not result. (Learn more about the Manifest jury process here.)

The Manifest Grand Jury Prize will be re-juried by the same advisors who served across the season, excluding any who may have a conflict of interest. When concluded we anticipate that this will result in 20-30 individuals having scored the works shown below in an effort to determine the winner. Learn more about the Manifest Grand Jury Prize here.

At least one work per exhibition is included for consideration. Solo exhibitors are invited to select their preferred work from their exhibition for jury, or may defer to the Director’s choice.

All told, season 13 presented 469 works by 279 artists in 41 states and 10 countries. Details on the exhibitions, and all of season 13, can found at this link. The entire season, and all works shown, will be documented in the forthcoming Manifest Exhibition Annual publication by around spring of 2019.

Thumbnails here may be clicked to see the full image.

Painting and time

I’m listening to Jordan Peterson’s lecture series where he approaches the Old Testament as a psychologist and phenomenologist: he reads the work as Jung would have, as an explication of structures that underlie human nature and the psyche. He speaks for nearly three hours in the first of the series and never gets to the first line of Genesis—his brain is like Kafka’s, bursting with a world that just wants out of his head. Peterson is approaching the whole subject as a rationalist, a scientist trying to understand patterns, examining the text for whatever it conveys with his reason, accepting nothing on faith, without ruling out that there may be much of value in the book that reason can’t plumb.

He takes one last question from his audience in the first video, and it has to do with painting. I think the questioner here is suggesting a reproduction of an original painting in some three dimensional form, not a photographic reproduction—some kind of 3D printed version of a work where the paint is duplicated in all its depth. It’s possible to imagine this as an effective way to copy a painting, up to a point. But the surface of even the most organized painting is full of serendipitous chaos, where the substances, the paint and oil, are mixed and applied in the most unpredictable ways, even following the strictest methods. At many levels an artist’s own “copy” of a previous painting wouldn’t be remotely identical to the original, even though the image is mostly the same. I’ve done this myself, painting two versions of a pie tin brimming with blueberries, and they are easily recognized as essentially the same image but are quite visibly different, in multiple ways.

Peterson also talks about historical context, but such an abstract concept seems to veer away from what his friend spoke about: how a painting  is an artifact in which the time required to make it becomes evident in the physical features of the painting. Yet historical context for Peterson means the context of human history itself, and he points out how cognitive function follows physical adaptation to the world, grows out of it, not the other way around—in both evolution and in individual perception—and so maybe they are talking about the same thing, in a way. You can feel the time invested in the painting, by the artist—as Peterson says—in the layering of paint. Subconsciously, you sense ways in which the paint betrays to the viewer how much the artist kept going back, or not going back, to certain areas, with new applications of paint, and you feel both the effort and the mastery of the process in an instant, just by looking at the work. All of which makes the work radiate a quality that actually makes time itself visible—as songs so easily make time audible. Not time as in tempo, but the vast sense of past time, as well as the aura of possibility, the depth of the future—and with some concerts, an immersion in nothing but the immediate present.

In the same way, paintings embody the person of the artist in ways that can’t be controlled by the artist—every painting is an involuntary confession of character and personality and the artist’s entire world.

Question: You were in this one room in a museum in New York looking at this one work, a Renaissance masterpiece, and these are generally accepted as amazing artifacts. Does an original work of art, as opposed to a high fidelity reproduction, contain the spirit of the artist who created it and does this account for the disparity in how much you have to pay for it . . .

Peterson: It does in part. I know a good portrait artist. One of the things he pointed out about a great portrait is that it actually contains time. A photograph is one instant. But a portrait is you layered on you layered on you. It has a thickness. It’s a direct manifestation of that creative act of perception. There’s more to it than that. A painting doesn’t end with the frame. We tend to think of a painting as an object but most objects are densely (infused?) with historical context.

Question:  If you have a reproduction of a painting that is exactly the same at the level of detail, why would you want the painting?

P: It’s exactly the same at the level of detail but not the level of context.

Going with the flow

Michael Dorman in Patriot

When I put the last mark on a painting, it’s almost never what I expected it to be during the first brushstroke. And I’m usually surprised several dozen times while getting from start to finish by what I’m required to do. So I can identify a bit with the protagonist in Amazon’s original series, Patriot. It’s a funny, poignant, and whimsically Kafkaesque series built around the personality of a sad-sack folk singer whose day job is working in Special Ops for the CIA. Actually, he has two day jobs. The other is his NOC, his non-official cover, as an industrial engineer working in a bleak Rust Belt factory in Milwaukee where he specializes in the “structural dynamics of flow.” In layman’s terms: piping. His company, McMillan, builds conduits for anything and everything, creating perfect circles in a world of epic imperfection, both planetary and human. These indispensable imperfections are what drive the story forward through one entertaining absurdity after another.

The theme of the show is “the structural dynamics of flow,” the principles of moving anything from Point A to Point B, that could apply to both McMillan piping and counter-intelligence. Likewise, Lakeman, with the help of his family and a co-worker, attempts to get $11 million Euros through airport security into Amsterdam and then on its way to Iran via a courier in Luxembourg. (His family cohort includes Cool Rick, Lakeman’s Beastie Boys-obsessed brother, and his father, who presides over most of the action as a seasoned but compassionate “control” who is professionally imperiled by his son’s mistakes.)

Nothing and no one in the show gets from Point A to Point B as planned. McMillan is going bankrupt. The covert payoff is making the rounds of Luxembourg as more MORE

Minute particulars

He who would do good to another must do it in Minute Particulars. 
General Good is the plea of the scoundrel, hypocrite, and flatterer;
For Art and Science cannot exist but in minutely organized Particulars,    
And not in generalizing Demonstrations of the Rational Power . . .

-William Blake

In the passage below, I think Jeff Blehar’s question was getting at something crucial when it comes to any art. It was from a podcast in which three political journalists took off their current affairs hats and spent some time talking about what they really love—music. In particular, Blehar was marveling at the sound of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s Green River. He’s really speaking about all the tiny incremental “minute particulars” that go into any band’s unique mature sound. I was struck by his comment because I had a similar thought listening to “Bootleg,” the second song on another of the band’s albums, where, when the bass comes in, suddenly their sound surfaces—an illusion of looseness, the casual way the four instruments seem to lope along, in no great rush to get the job done, and come together as if by accident, two of them riding on the bus just jamming, waiting for the bus to stop and pick up the other two. The way its elements converge make any great work of art unique and individual in a way that’s impossible to duplicate or even describe clearly—and I don’t think it’s something that could be translated into a set of reliable algorithms. In other words you can’t learn how to do it repeatedly—you end up imitating pieces and parts, but not the whole. You can copy a Vermeer, but it won’t be a Vermeer. The jury will be out for a while on whether a computer could create a convincing Vermeer forgery, but I doubt that it ever will. Blehar says:

This is one of the things that gets lost but you hear it in everything they did. It’s that sound. Green River is the best embodiment of the band’s sound. That sound . . . every time they could just walk in and create a song that sounded good, like ear candy, something about the way Fogerty’s guitar, and his brother’s rhythm guitar and the bass and the drums came together on an elemental level is fundamentally satisfying. I guess I’ve never understood why nobody else can reproduce this. Why doesn’t every band try to sound like CCR on Green River? It shouldn’t be hard to do in theory. This is not Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. It’s four guys in a room. There isn’t even much over dubbing. But nobody has ever sounded like that. It’s such a remarkable achievement. And it gets neglected because you don’t even notice it. They are so good at it, they draw you away from one of their primary virtues by making it seem so effortless.

What’s distinctive is how minimal CCR kept things, like the earlier Spoon, the simplicity in their production and instrumentation, but I don’t think any of that was a conscious choice. After ten years of work, the band had a perfectly realized style—in Susan Sontag’s sense of MORE

Stop motion wisdom

Phil Tippett

A quote posted on the door of the stop motion effects creator for the first Star Wars trilogy, Phil Tippett:

Passion has little to do with euphoria and everything to do with patience. It is not about feeling good. It is about endurance. Like patience, passion comes from the Latin root, pati. It does not mean to flow with exuberance. It means to suffer.

Benjamin Bjorklund

Oven, Benjamin Bjorklund

What’s old is also new

Alma Deutscher

Some people have told me I compose in the musical language of the past and that this is not allowed in the 21st century. In the past it was possible to compose beautiful melodies and beautiful music but today they say I’m not allowed to compose like this because I need to discover the complexity of the modern world. And the point of music is to show the complexity of the world. Well let me tell you a huge secret. I already know the world is complex and can be very ugly, but I think these people have just got a little bit confused. If the world is so ugly, then what’s the point of making it even uglier with ugly music?

— Alma Deutscher, British composer, b. 2005


A continuous yes

Christopher Isherwood, detail from Christopher Isherwood and Don Bachardy

Most painters who try to do what a beloved, earlier painter did end up as imitators. Others, like David Hockney, begin where an earlier painter, or set of painters, left off and find a new, idiosyncratic path. Hockney’s a cheerful, sincere post-modernist, borrowing as a tribute to his passion for earlier painters and always using their influence to find himself. They include Matisse, above all, but also Picasso, the Impressionists and post Impressionists, Chardin, Vermeer, Freud, Balthus, and, a recent surprise for me, Piero della Francesca. It isn’t as if this was a secret, since he puts his admiration for the Renaissance painter in plain sight, but I hadn’t paid close enough attention to his work to notice it until now. An afternoon at The Metropolitan Museum of Art a week ago elevated my admiration for Hockney dramatically. Until last Saturday I had no idea how powerful his best early work is, and how wonderfully strange his paintings can seem even when he’s devoted to nothing more than honestly celebrating domesticity, bourgeois happiness and the simple pleasure of human relationships—in other words, the placid order of civilized life.

Having never seen his paintings other than in reproductions, I started paying serious attention to Hockney only around the turn of the century, when I first saw his Polaroids at Retrospektive Photoworks in L.A. during its run there. I immediately loved them, many assembled from dozens of Instagram-square Polaroids. Until then I’d been appreciating him in a sidelong way, fond of his color and the Southern Californian light that transfigured his work when he moved to the U.S. Hockney’s paintings are so intensely illuminated, it makes you realize that Venice Beach is nearly a thousand miles closer to the equator than Venice, Italy and the light of the Midi has nothing on the light that inspired Diebenkorn. To walk out of LAX for the first time into that brilliance must have been like stepping out onto another planet, compared to the Northern glow of Hockney’s native England.

The Metropolitan show highlights the radical simplicity of the earliest famous work that followed Hockney’s migration to the U.S. In each individual painting, MORE

Hockney at the Met

Mr. and Mrs. Clark and Percy, David Hockney

I got a chance to see the David Hockney retrospective at the Metropolitan Museum of Art this past weekend, and was knocked out by seeing, in person, so many paintings I’ve only seen in reproductions until now. A long response to the show will be forthcoming, if I can find the time to finish it. The double portraits–the one above offers a sense of their scale–make the show worth attending.


Stack of Tins, watercolor

Joshua Huyser, a Minneapolis artist who exhibits internationally, does the simplest possible water colors of single objects, or a small group of identical objects, on a nearly white ground. They’re a delight, and they do what all painting should do: make you look at something as if you’re seeing it for the first time.There’s a guileless quality to the execution that reminds me of Fairfield Porter in that it never lets you forget you’re looking at paint.  They’re precise and detailed but not overly so, and color is used very sparingly. Seeing each new painting on Instagram is like hearing a hammer drive a nail just a little more securely into its seat.

Cezanne’s gray

Cezanne’s studio, courtesy Paris Review/Joel Meyerowitz

Joel Meyerowitz makes some excellent observations about what he noticed when he saw color of the walls in Cezanne’s studio and how that color’s fluid properties, as the background for whatever Cezanne observed in his still life paintings, helped give birth to modernism. Delightful. It’s also wonderful to recognize the little sculpted Cupid still there, so familiar from Cezanne’s painting of it. Here’s an except from the fine little essay, which is actually itself an excerpt from Meyerowitz’s new book, Cezanne’s Objects

Cézanne painted his studio walls a dark gray with a hint of green. Every object in the studio, illuminated by a vast north window, seemed to be absorbed into the gray of this background. There were no telltale reflections around the edges of the objects to separate them from the background itself, as there would have been had the wall been painted white. Therefore, I could see how Cézanne, making his small, patch-like brush marks, might have moved his gaze from object to background, and back again to the objects, without the familiar intervention of the illusion of space. Cézanne’s was the first voice of “flatness,” the first statement of the modern idea that a painting was simply paint on a flat canvas, nothing more, and the environment he made served this idea. The play of light on this particular tone of gray was a precisely keyed background hum that allowed a new exchange between, say, the red of an apple and the equal value of the gray background. It was a proposal of tonal nearness that welcomed the idea of flatness.