Rooms with a viewer

October 2, 2002 § Leave a comment

Woman in a Side Gallery | Stan Washburn

The museums in my paintings are composites and distillations rather than actual places. I carry a little camera and sketchbook, and accumulate snaps and thumbnails. I spread these out on the floor and push them around. I lift details of doorways and moldings, benches and parquetry from different places, combine them with figures encountered in one place or another, and add art from other rooms, other museums, from books, from imagination — whatever seems necessary to complete the spaces and figures. Or sometimes the figures come first, and the space and art form around them. Or sometimes the art comes first.

Artists choose subject matter, in large part, to provide the pretext for the sorts of formal exercises that engage them, but obviously there is an emotional element to subject, as well. Pleasure is the object of most art, and art museums delight me. I love the directness of the gallery experience — here is the art, here am I — now, what do I make of it? I love to drift along, seeing new, readmiring old. Or sometimes demoting an old enthusiasm and moving on to something that was there, underappreciated or simply unseen, before.

In this respect, painting galleries is much the same as touring them. I’ve been coming back to this subject off and on for twenty years, and each time I approach it I find a slightly different subject. Henry Moore, the great English sculptor, used to summer every year by a pebble beach. Each year his form interest had changed enough so that when he returned he discovered pebbles of a shape he hadn’t noticed the year before. My view of galleries progresses in the same way. Doorways seem more important recently than they did before. I see more partial views from one gallery to the next. The emotional distance of other gallery-goers, lost in their private trains of thought, seems more intriguing. Next year there will be some new shading. I look forward to finding out what it is.


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