Still Life

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Diego´s long shadow

Hands down, by a million miles, on his worst day--maimed, blind and crippled, Diego Velazquez is the  painter par excellence and has always been and will always be the painter´s painter. When you look at this artist´s work up close, within inches from your eyes, and you can tilt your head and try and look against the light so you see the thickness of a particular brushstroke laid so eloquently, effortlessly, and sublimely over the 350 year-old linen; or when you contemplate the many thin, transparent, almost watercolor-like paint marks placed strategically, intuitively, juxtaposed against the impasto in such a way that makes you think: "of other way would have worked..."; and when you see his "on second thoughts" about a certain passage and are able to analyze how he dealt with that particular "error" and you try to console yourself in your ineptness and say to yourself "so, he made mistakes too" and realize just after you´ve had that thought that his biggest mistakes would have been your most fantastic achievements in your wildest dreams (and so you´re back to feeling inept) just makes you want to drop everything, wondering why you ever even thought of taking up painting in the first place. At least it´s what happens to me...

There have been volumes written about this artist´s work and life; nothing that I could write here would be new or eye-opening and so I merely wanted to focus on a lesser-known work of his and just let the reader look and admire with quiet reverence for a few moments.

My initial reaction whenever I´ve looked at this piece has always been one of startle, a sudden mild shock, as of one who was not expecting to bump into anyone when he turned around. The way the head occupies the space around it; the air around the head -- one can almost imagine the damp, cold, musty atmosphere of the room--so still and austere in its grayness; the look in the eyes of the sitter: so frank, so unassuming, so unpretentious, probably completely unaware of the greatness of the genius that is observing him and recording him on canvas. Real, natural, almost present here and now...timeless.

Technically, the so-called "Pope´s Barber" is flawless, exquisite. So deceivingly simple in its execution, bereft of any superfluous apparatus, its amazing achievement is how the painter has been able to take such a simple, seemingly nondescript model and transform him into something of sublime beauty that establishes a special relationship with the viewer more than 350 years later...

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