Tag Archives: light

The Girl’s Pearl Earring

I have always had an affinity for pearls.  It could be because the pearl is my birthstone.  Or because I once read that it symbolized “tears of joy and sorrow”:  its split personality struck me as both tragic and evocative.  Perhaps it is its silky richness – its delicate decadence.  Or just maybe it is the pearl’s origins – in the belly of an oyster, rooted in its bed far beneath the sea.

Jan Vermeer’s “Girl With A Pearl Earring” sounds like such a humble thing; yet it is a miracle of color and light. There are no lines in the painting, no harsh borders:  only subtle frontiers that are seen by the mind as much as they are by the eye.  The juxtaposition of texture and shadow is as imperceptible as the descending twilight that softens yet changes the landscape.  The touch that molded her face is as ethereal as gossamer.

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Vermeer painted with light as if it stood in waiting pools on his palette; it is the defining grace of the portrait.  It stretches in blue valleys across the girl’s turban.  It glows like a melted star from her lower lip.  It warms her moon-like face in a hushed, radiant patina.  But most of all, it is the creating force; the central, incandescent life of her pearl earring.

The singular bauble hangs like a dainty planet, stolen from its galaxy and forced to glow in metallic glory by itself.  Softly oval, the pearl’s gentle curves nestle against the acquiescent shadows of the girl’s neck.  Within it is a world of elusive prisms:  silver, brown, gold, lavender, blue.  The colors are stirred together to create an object as warm as an alchemist’s elixir yet cool enough to calm the rich flesh of a young girl.

The girl’s earring must have weighed heavily from her ear – as if it were trying to get her attention.  If she listened, what would she hear?  The painful throbbing of the steel hook that had inelegantly punctured her earlobe – the tincture of rust that now ran through her blood?  Or perhaps she heard something else.  Perhaps she heard the sound of her treasure’s parents: childless, buried at sea and softly crying.

Her Ethereal Light

Moonlight’s gown melted into the earth, its complex alchemy of the sky nourishing the green circulation of a sleeping country.  She was wrapped in the cold breath of stars and a turquoise swath of twilight – still warm with the memory of the sun in its low horizon lands.

A Final Goodbye

Light bloomed around her like a pale garden – and continued to grow, until it covered entire hemispheres, illuminating latitudes and longitudes.  Moonlight’s pretty dress reflected the galaxies she had left behind:  the radiant fabric was embroidered with their swirling travels, the distant clouds of shining planets.   

As she moved across the dark acres, the silvery fabric winked in the shadows. The gossamer train filled the spaces between the minutiae of the dusky world.  Moonlight progressed slowly, admiring her dress, as it flowed past mountains and fields in textile illumination.

She was so lovely, and wore her ethereal light like a veil that danced from her shoulders.  It filled the air with insubstantial color and rode through the atmosphere like a lush, metallic ocean.  Her footprints traced a luminous path, marking her progress as the evening grew dark and rich.  They filled with light, like shallow lakes, and the gentle waves nudged against the curved shores of dainty insteps.

Moonlight’s nacerous glow swept across the world with a chilly scintillation.  She moved slowly to take in her allotted hours: her lifetime of shadow.  She took the time to look into the sky, the blue clouds, her nocturnal birthplace. And with gratitude she stared into the face of the goddess who released her handmaiden nightly to announce her lunar presence and twilight’s soft departure.

The Girl With A Red Hat

A portrait that molds color and shadow:  it is a vision that shifts and trembles with the vagaries of light and trembles on the precipice of change.  

The light is as thick and rich as cream.  It pours in brilliant skeins across the girl’s shoulders and neck, forming streams and rivers – a cartography of chaste color.  The artist’s brush was heavy with paint, dripping with illumination:  when it touched the canvas, she came to life in a sculpture of incandescence and dusk. 

Girl With A Red Hat

Highlights glide down the slope of her nose, to mold a generous, blushing silhouette.  Glistening daubs contour her lower lip into a seductive, endearing curve.    A single spot of light rests in her eye like a distant sun.  It glimmers dimly beneath the lid, on the outskirts of the dark iris.    Free of outline’s curse, she grows out of the hothouse air like an orchid.

The baubles that hang from her ears seem to glow internally, seething with white-hot galaxies.  Her cloak is thick and modeled, cut deeply into shadow, like blue snowdrifts.  Her red hat stretches over her like an exotic awning, its flush echoed in her cheeks and mouth.  It casts a shadow over her face, a seamless puzzle of planes and depths. 

No one can be sure if this lady existed.  It is possible that the artist caught a glimpse of her,  the fleeting, dissolving mesh of light, the parted, expectant mouth – the impossible red hat.  Or perhaps he imagined her, a feminine equation who waited in a humid and bronzed room, warm with clinging illumination.

She is a masterpiece of color and light – warm and dimensional, melting yet sculptural, a soft design of texture and pattern.     She is a sum of radiant molecules suspended in ether, where a sudden breath – a shattering of air – will forever alter her, or cause her to disappear completely.

The Waning Moon

One night, when the moon was heavy and full, its curiosity got the best of it.  It slowly lowered itself through sapphire clouds and rippling twilight…it shouldered its way past bristling stars, past their astronomical arrangements that made the sky a sparkling atlas.  Down these gilded maps it flew on its celestial quest.

It avoided the tangles of constellations, the frosted galaxies filled with light and planets.  It sank through sediments of discolored atmospheres and foreign gravities.  It was curious about the earth, for sometimes a satellite wants to look its owner in the face.

The far-off patterns of continents were intriguing:  the broken coastlines cutting into oceans, mountains lying as still as skeletons. For too long the moon had gazed on the distant countries and waters, longing to cool their exotic surfaces, to learn the sun’s warming trick.

But the moon was also reckless.  It swooped below the gray horizon, past cars and houses, closely above people – who, if they had only looked up, would have seen an amazing sight.  It then came upon a tree:  barren and cold, not yet softened by the year’s first crop of blossoms. The tree’s branches caught the moon, like a bright, luminous fish.  In the moon’s struggles, the branches pierced its sides, and sluices of light flowed down the trunk until the bark shone like a radiant ghost.

The light of the moon was broken into pieces as the tree balanced the unruly planet.  Like a cathedral window, the moon’s color was divided by a disruptive linear world.  Suffering in foreign atmospheres, it missed the populous heavens, the pure, glowing night.  In its loneliness, it felt the disapproving eye of its mother Diana, who – impatiently adjusting her ropes of stars and her illuminated crown – wondered what she would do with her lunar child.

Harnessed and still, the moon waited.  Losing its life’s blood of light, it grew smaller as it began to wane.  Eventually the tree loosened its grip…and the moon once again rose into the sky – a half, a quarter or maybe even a crescent of its former self.

Roads Not Taken

My art is a rite of passage.  I emerge from it weary, frustrated and temperamental.  It is a journey that winds sinews around brain, heart, hands.

When I draw, my eyes wander over the surfaces of my subject: curves that wind and widen, dip and disappear, straighten, stop and start.  The slightest fold is an expedition into texture, light and shadow.  It's no wonder, perhaps, that a square inch of work leaves me tired and shaking.

I finished this today:

It's a favorite subject of mine.  Scarves.  I have so many:  silk, cotton, velvet; stamped with patterns of cities, castles outlined in turquoise, leaves and peach-colored shells.  They are embroidered with fiery sequins and beads, decorated with knots, bows and spirited fringes.

This particular article was a mild, pastel green.  In my uneducated hands it felt like rough silk.  The fabric was delicate, with each individual thread standing apart and catching its own angle of light; so what I held was like five feet of shimmering air.

This took me about a week to draw.  Every day, as I peered into the green folds, it seemed as if I was traversing meadows, hillsides and bowers that I'd never seen before.  Sometimes the path was wide and verdant…sometimes it took a sudden turn and vanished completely.

I like this picture.  It is a travelogue, a cartographer's fancy.  It is my sculpture; carving into stone, through silk and across fields. 

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She’s Coming To Visit!

And it was only by chance that I found out.  I was drifting through the pages of the Los Angeles Times, for reasons too unimportant to describe, when I saw her face – glowing through the dirty ink – and read that she would be taking up residence in Pasadena, at the Norton Simon Museum.  She will be accepting visitors from November to February, and I will certainly be one of them, basking in the light that was created nearly 350 years ago.

I saw her half-sister once, long ago.  They share fathers:  they were painted by the same man, Jan Vermeer – the painter who would capture and hold life as carefully as he would a butterfly.  I remember pushing through the crowd so I could look into silent, speaking eyes; so I could melt into the gleam of her pearl earring; so I could feel the cool, cobalt textures of her turban.  Her face was simple, like beauty, but it was also as multi-faceted as a diamond.  For centuries her admirers had been dazzled by her mystery.

And now another child is coming to visit.  I've seen her before, in books, in my thoughts – I'm well acquainted with the ribbons tied into her hair, with her plush jacket.  The folds and creases are edged with gold:  the alchemist has shared his art with the painter.  I've traveled across the plains of that jacket, experiencing the progression from dark to light like the heat of the rising sun against my face.  

I know her pearls, her slim arms, the patient and gentle smile.  This is no Mona Lisa smile:  final, fatal, a dead end.  You've received all she is willing to give.  This golden girl is just beginning to welcome her guest – her plain face is warming to the friend who has interrupted her letter-writing.  You haven't surprised her, but you have been recognized.  She greets you with a soft familiarity; she smiles, she pauses and waits for you to take a seat.

Vermeer specialized in capturing these quiet moments, preserving them in light like flies in amber.  A girl in a crimson hat suddenly glancing over her shoulder; a woman reading a letter, both hands holding it tightly; a maid pouring milk – the stream pouring from the jug like a skein of white silk…and a girl caught in the middle of her writing:  these are acts that have happened hundreds of times in any country, in any century.  Silent, exquisite, they are seconds of life that are substantive, yet ethereal:  they hold onto their three dimensions until you venture nearer.  Then they dissolve into color and light, an emergent world that is on the brink of disappearing. This is a world that balances on an eyelash, which can vanish in a blink of an eye.

So when I do see her, I do intend to stand close, so I can see how time was made to stand still, how light was channeled to define life – how it was so magnificently understood.  But I shouldn't want to stand too close, lest her smile waver, her warmth fade and her world dissolve into mindless geometry.

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Camera Obscured

I'll start this by saying that I am near-sighted.  The Aubrey brow has grasped a pair of glasses for forty years.  Without my glasses I am at a considerable disadvantage.  I can't even read expressions – so when I smile at someone it's similar to spitting in the wind:  you just don't know where it will land.

As a near-sighted person, I have made some spectacular miscalculations.  I have mistaken a pail for a cat.

But there are times when poor eyesight can be an asset.  I was thinking about this when I was in Catalina, last December.  To me, the Christmas lights that wrapped the island as if it were a gift weren't tiny bulbs fastened to strings of electric wire.  Instead, they were bright smears of color – vibrating in the mild afternoon, frozen into the sharp evening air. Lights from the illuminated Casino were reflected deep into the water, as if holiday festivities were being held in some submerged coral cave. 

At night, from the hills, Christmas trees – yellow-orange like Clementines – grew.  I couldn't see clearly the hotels or houses that kept them lit.  So I took it as a fact that they were living radiant things growing out of the fancy of an age-old holiday.

Yesterday, I was reminded once more to appreciate the pixilation of my vision; to enjoy a world melting into an impressionist's canvas.

I was walking to the market – and it was a fine neighborhood to walk through:  the houses were old and statuesque, glazed with tiles:  terra-cotta, dusty green, pale weeping blue.  I was enjoying the architecture and peering into the gardens to study the twisting foilage, the uprooted exoticism.

I looked across the street – it was just far enough for the details to lose their clarity and recede into softness and color.  The trees were in thick blossom.  And because I had no glasses to deny my reverie, the flowering became expansive, profuse:  rather than with tiny flowers, the branches seemed to be heavy with snow.  The bare vines that were plastered against the garden wall were delicate veins:  like veins reaching through stone, like a cartographer's painted tributaries – they interlocked like the initials from the Book of Kells.

Now, I don't like it when I trip down the final stair because I couldn't make out the separation between step and sidewalk; it's annoying to catch my shoe on a stone audacious enough to be invisible – I do hate stumbling through my daily travels.  But when my world suddenly dissolvles into light and color and shadow; when art suddenly appears – growing from the earth, floating in the sky, glittering like stars in the trees – I have to be grateful for the internal lens that obscures my surroundings and makes them gently withdraw into a painterly imagination.

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