I remember, some time ago, looking at a painting of a garden in which a man is pictured pouring water from a garden sprinkling can. I was struck by the sense that the watering can never empties; water pours out brightly – a static stream of living water.
Maybe this irony is not really a big deal. It is a simple fact; any static image stops and then holds all things suspended in a perpetual state of emergence. But why did I notice it in that particular painting? Why is a windy day more “forever blowing” in some paintings than it is in others? I put the answer down to “art.” These things can be more or less artfully done in painting, and some artists do it better than others. Some artists can get us to care about the flowing water or the wind, while others allow these things to pass as of no consequence.
But the static nature of painting also invites another problem. All my life as a painter I’ve borne up under both gleeful and woeful pronouncements that painting is dead. I think the pronouncement is made partly in reaction to the static nature of painting; the assumption being that death is the ultimate stasis. No doubt there are a lot of other reasons as well.
Against this notion of the death of painting however should be considered the number of things that painting has managed to keep alive. The ever-flowing water from that sprinkling can is one. The animals in the caves at Lascaux and Altamira, the Egyptian faces kept forever alive in the Faiyum mummy portraits, and Van Gogh’s cypress trees are others. This is an important irony that is apparently missed by those who pronounce the death of painting. How can a dead artistic medium be so successful at keeping so many valuable things alive?
I put the pronouncements of painting’s death aside and concentrate on the medium’s power to sustain life. What art of painting will be required of me to preserve alive this particular Spring day on the Fox River? Its not just a matter today of making the River flow as water does from a sprinkling can. The static art of painting entrusts itself to the future. It is the future that will prove life in both painting and river.
Written by Joel Sheesley, Artist-In-Residence, Fox River Initiative