“A writer should write with his eyes and a painter paint with his ears,” Gertrude Stein famously said, in a tumult of the senses. She was echoing Picasso, and the motif echoes loudly – as a rose is a rose is a rose — across Paris. Curators and painters, it seemed, are tripping over each other to subvert the common pairing of eye & seeing. Not that appearances fool the eye, but that appearance is a collaborative process and to seize a fuller reality, the artist employs (his mind’s eye) instinct, feeling, whole self, total focus, third eye, mind’s eye. A juju, a mix of intoxication and inner penetration.
For instance, Jean Cocteau recounts Picasso talking about the wife of a half-blind painter describing a castle as he painted it. “…painting is a blind man’s job. He paints not what he sees, but how he feels about it, what he tells himself about what he has seen.”
Sophie Calle, in several rooms of her massive show in the Picasso Museum, questions the nature of seeing by showing us the photographs of “the unsighted”: the last thing people saw before they losing their sight (i.e., a streetcar), and videos of people born blind standing wide-eyed before at the sea for the first time.
Modigliani, in an exhibition at Musée de l’Orangerie, gives us portraits of familiars with filled-in eyes, or two eyes each sporting a different color. Eyes with the holes of masks. As masks, as people with expanded vision that see paradox, each eye seeing in reality a different, conflicting aspect.
And Rothko, after immersing us in color, color, color in a retrospective at the Fondation Louis Vuitton, pulls the veil: “I’m not interested in color. It’s light I’m after.” The forty-four candles of Hanukah have been lit and extinguished, and the times are dark. But light comes in many forms. Remembers the watchword: “It’s light I’m after.”