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Chuck Close on Vermeer

Bruce just sent me this from the Guardian – he and I adore Vermeer, but he is a dedicated Vermeer hound and has gone around the world in a quest to see each and every painting. A beautiful tribute below.

Chuck Close on Johannes Vermeer

Ever since I was a student, my favourite artist has been Johannes Vermeer. I understand, or can intuit, how every painting ever made, from the Lascaux caves to today’s most cutting-edge work, was painted. Information about a piece’s creation – touch, hand, process, technique – is embedded in the paint, like a Hansel and Gretel trail.
Vermeer, however, is the only artist whose paintings I cannot readily deconstruct. Other than the fact that they were all made with a camera-obscura-like contrivance, they remain impenetrable. The paint appears to have been blown on by divine breath. Neither opaque nor translucent, it does not seem to function as a film of pigment, but as light itself.
While most people only notice the subject matter and marvel at the verisimilitude, time spent with a painting like The Milkmaid, painted in the 1650s, is time spent communing with an image so sublime that it transcends its physical reality (mere paint on a panel) and becomes an apparition worthy of creation by the gods. Such sophisticated and remarkable paint handling – all for a plain and ordinary-looking Dutchwoman with sleeves rolled up revealing a farmer’s tan. The foodstuffs that surround her are so naturalistic, a passing fly might try to land on them, while the pail and the basket that hang on the wall are, in terms of perspective, perfect.
On the floor rests a foot-warmer which, despite the abundant light flooding through the window, speaks to the unmistakable chill in the air. Chips of plaster are missing from the rough and cruddy surface of the wall, which is much in need of a paint job.
So much information and compressed energy is packed into such a small painting. Inch for inch, The Milkmaid is one of the most remarkable achievements in art.



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About Beth

I began keeping a journal at the age of nine. Nearly fifty years later, I started this online journal, sharing reflections, reviews, updates, and the occasional secret.

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