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Pentimenti

January 4, 2010


During the ten years I worked as contract art educator at the National Gallery of Canada, I spent countless hours in front of the painting entitled As the Old Sing, So the Young Pipe (c. 1640-1645) by the Flemish artist, Jacob Jordaens (1593-1678), in the Baroque room of the National Gallery of Canada. I was enchanted by the miniature 17th century streetscape with its blue sky, white clouds and red brick buildings reflected in the wine glass that was half-full, half-empty. And the pentimento revealing a “third” ear on the dog in the foreground never ceased to amuse and intrigue gallery visitors.

I used to have little patience for pentimenti in my own painting. The visible brush stroke was meant to add to the strength of the image not reveal errors or alterations. But there they were, in the right light from the right distance, traces of the past. There was the evidence that the spruce tree that I began on December 27, 1998 was covered so heavily with snow on December 28, 1998 that the branches no longer were springing up but were bending down with their burden of snow. The snowfall changed the whole painting.

Italians called such errors a pentirsi. I repent. I am sorry but I really have to change the placement or the angle or the light.

The real world which does not resemble the step-by-step how-to painters who work from imagination or other 2-D images, interrupts the painter’s process.

Sometimes months or even years pass before a painting can be completed. Sometimes seasons change or we change; we move or we become ill or someone dies; or maybe someone is born.

I spent a week shifting my studio to the room with the best light. It was a lot of work.

By a Lady Uploaded to Flickr by ocean.flynn (2008-04-08). On March 9, 2008: Completed hanging plant; Added basket of art books; Added set of brass?pots for spherical reflections; Clipped apple tree branches and put into water to force growth of leaves and blossoms.

From Reflexivity: Mise en Abyme

In his chapter entitled “Las Menina” in Les Mots et Les Choses (1966), French philosopher, Michel Foucault, provided an analysis of the painting entitled Las Meninas (1656) in Madrid’s Museo del Prado by Spanish artist Diego Velázquez (1599 – 1660). In great detail and without reference to contemporary art historical approaches, Foucault described the enormous oil painting. He re-presented the painting from his own perspective in 1966 drawing attention to the ways in which Velázquez used mirrors, paintings within paintings, the canvas itself and screens that force the viewer to mentally oscillate, shift perspectives and ultimately question where the images-within-images begin and end. Is the frame hanging on the wall in the background that of a portrait of the king and queen or is it a mirror in which case, the King and Queen in the act of observing Velázquez painting are themselves represented in a mise en abyme? Which surface is the artist representing? What is the image’s interior, surface, and exterior? See also Gresle (2006-12-01).

I have been fascinated by mise en abyme since my adolescence and and in the last decade it has become more frequent in my painting.

Webliography and Bibliography

Gresle, Yvette. 2006-12-01. “Foucault’s Las Meninas and art-historical methods.” Journal of Literary Studies).”

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