The painting itself is spare. Abstract. Black and white. From ten feet away the composition becomes clear, what looks like a charcoal eye staring out from the center behind a milky cloud of gauze, the paint itself tenuous, as if the white and black are filmy ephemera vanishing and emerging with the play of light. And then, the bold strokes of black scratched across a window pane to further obscure the eye. Like calligraphy—India ink flashed on rice paper in an improvisatory testament to immediacy and of going forward beyond thinking. Lines of another language, cryptic and old, and there’s the feeling of happening upon something most intimate. A close-up of an emotion itself, but what does it mean? What does this say? The lines dance as if blown by a forgotten wind and yet they are immutable as a cave painting on ancient rock.
From four feet away the texture is revealed. The canvas with swirls of paint in contradictory motion; huge slashes through plaster through cement through rock as if the unstable surface itself was scraped and gouged with a chisel before it had a chance to solidify. This had been alive once—liquidy and hot, captured in the first moments after it began to cool. Moving closer there are ridges like mountain ranges, raised fingerprints, scars. Thick paint of white and gray in web-like counterpoint to the black which seems deeper now, almost sinister in its blackness. The closer you get the eye disappears.
From two feet away there is a rip of white in the upper left corner. A wound showing the paper-like skin in its fragility. Small stones are embedded in the paint, the surface a slice of rock a sixteenth of an inch thick, this weathered paper which seems at once still wet and older than papyrus. There are colors now, the whites give way to grays to the color of sand to a shadow of blue to the blacks like bamboo reeds obscured by mist, blending into the thick viscous air. Another glance, a gaze at the eye which seems now to be an opening through trees, a dense snow-covered forest. A step closer, the cold can almost be felt.
There are people now. The museum’s piercing stillness is now the blank canvas to footsteps on thick carpeted floors. Four people walk as in procession. Their words are as spare as the paintings: “Hmm...” “Look at that...” Closer they get as they continue their pilgrimage around the walls. A Frankenthaler, a Cárdenas, and then the Liberman, no more than three seconds before each until they pass to David Smith and continue on.
“Hmm...” they say. “Look at that.”