Sunday, October 30, 2011

How did he *do* that?

Like me, you've probably stood in front of a drawing by Ingres, and thought, "How did he do that?"

How, Jean-Auguste-Dominique? How?

By "that," of course, I mean, "accomplish that strange graphical flatness without sacrificing a sense of volume and verisimilitude." This is what that trixy sonofabitch Ingres did that is so mystifying.

Consider his 1836 study of the rather anemic Madame Victor Baltard and her daughter Paule:

Look carefully at the face. There are few darks, very few. She is lit entirely; there are few halftones, and the only full shadows are cast shadows at the lower eyelid on the right, the bottom of the nose, and the lips. In short, she is the next thing to being a line drawing only, like the architectural detail on the left. Yet we have no trouble interpreting her as three-dimensional, fully formed.

This reads naturally, but in my experience it is a deeply unnatural way to draw, and never arises by accident. So how did Ingres pull it off?

The effect is even more pronounced in the bottom figure in his 1814 study for La Grand Odalisque:

Consider how much of the figure is blank paper! Ingres has somehow completely indicated the mass and form of a figure without drawing anything at all!

Well, perhaps you are lazy like me, and you have admired this effect in Ingres drawings and never gotten around to analyzing it enough to replicate the technique. That's a safe short-cut, until the day arrives when you suddenly wish to use the technique and don't have recourse to a book of Ingres. That fateful day arrived for me last Monday.

I was at Spring St., where the beautiful Claudia was modeling. Having been out of town or otherwise occupied quite a lot recently, my drawing was rusty, and I was not particularly pleased with most of what I was doing. For the final 40-minute pose of the evening, Claudia took a reclining pose. And I thought to myself, "Holy shit, it's Ingres lighting! I can do an Ingres drawing!" And a second later I mentally wailed, "But I never figured out how!" So I was in one of those delightful high-wire situations where you have to solve a complex problem on the fly to meet an opportunity which will never come around, in quite the form presented, ever again.

Re-deriving Ingres' pictorial principles as I drew, I came up with this:

Claudia, graphite and white pencil on paper, 15"x11", 2011

Let's leave aside for a moment any questions of quality and discuss this from a purely formal perspective, because I think I pretty much sorted out how Ingres was pulling it off. The system depends on a set of internal and external variables being set to values which complement each other - external variables being those pertaining to the subject, and internal those that pertain to the drawing technique itself.


1. The lighting must be frontal, so that the brightest planes are those perpendicular to the line from viewer to object. Planes advancing toward the viewer or receding from the viewer turn away from the light as well, resulting in darkening, as can be seen in the central foot in this drawing:

Study of Hands and Feet for "The Golden Age" (1862)

The front of the big toe, and the bottom of the gap between the big toe and the second toe are bright, but the facing sides of the big toe and second toe are dark, because they are turning away from the light. Similarly, the edges of the foot darken more than its frontal plane, as they too dip away from the viewer, and the source of light.

In fact, this lighting scenario produces something rarely seen in reality: an actual outline. Because views of rounded objects always terminate in edges turning away from the viewer, the dimming of turning planes results in a distinctly dark edge. Here reality merges with line drawing, and a scenario occurs in which an object can be drawn largely with contour lines and still retain realism.

2. However, the light must not be on exactly the same axis as the viewer - the viewer should not be sitting beside a spotlight. There must be an offset, producing mild shadowing on one side of the figure. The result of this effect is well-pronounced in this drawing:

Study of Seated Female Nude (1830)

In this instance, Ingres has placed the lighting to his left, producing halftones of recession on the left, but true cast shadows begin to emerge on the right.

This offset is not important pictorially, but rather cognitively. The eye is attracted to even lighting, but it slides off of pure even lighting: equal dimming on the left and right sides of the object makes the object unfocused. A weighting of the dimming to one side anchors the object, producing a greater impression of form. You will see this offset again and again in Ingres, and in the case of the Claudia drawing, the offset was as much as 50 degrees - but it still didn't read as true lighting from the side.

3. The primary object must be pale in color. This is lighting for marble, alabaster, and white people. Why? Because the technique depends on high contrast between the local color of the object and the half-tones, cast shadows, and edges.

Claudia's Armenian, with a kind of bronze skin tone and olive undertone, but for the purposes of making an Ingres drawing, she is of sufficient honkitude to work. Especially if you're drawing on tan paper, as I was. You can see in my drawing that much of the variation between brightest-brights and moderate brights results from variation in local color, not in lighting. Which is to say, her breasts and pubic bone are brighter than her belly, not because the light there was brighter, but because the skin there is lighter (Claudia, perhaps, spent a great deal of time gallavanting around Cape Cod in a bikini this summer). Accurate reflection of variations in local color is insanely difficult in monochromatic drawings of chiaroscuro lighting situations, but relatively simple to do when using Ingres lighting.

4. Soft light. It is important that the light softly model the object. Hard edges to shadowed areas are apart from the purpose here, as well as spotting of light around dimmer regions. The light should be broad and diffuse because, as will be explained below, the drawing technique itself heightens contrast.


Constructing a situation in which it is possible to draw an Ingres-type drawing is insufficient to actually draw an Ingres-type drawing. You and I, walking into the studio at Spring St., would certainly have looked at Claudia in that pose and immediately thought, "Ingres." But an innocent bystander might well have missed the resemblance, and this would have been a valid interpretation of the scene. In fact, Claudia looked nothing like an Ingres drawing. As much as Ingres' drawing technique is grounded in a certain configuration of externals, it is also a wildly stylized technique. It only looks realistic. Let's consider some of the distortions involved in translating even a well-suited scene into an Ingres drawing:

1. Nonlinear gamma

Gamma, as used in visual technologies, is the name for a particular mathematical formulation of the relationship between original object brightness and representation of object brightness in the reproducing medium (computer monitor, movie screen, inkjet print, paper and pencil drawing). Here's a recent photograph of me in front of some building somewhere:

This image's gamma, represented here by Photoshop's CURVES tool, is linear - input brightness is strictly proportional with output brightness, producing an ordinary tonal range with lots of intermediates (greys, half-tones).

Now here's the same picture with a little gamma modification:

In this case, the gamma has been altered so that output brightness remains at zero for a few degrees of input brightness up from pure black. Likewise, output brightness goes to pure white before input brightness reaches there. So a lot of darkish regions have gone to black, and a lot of brightish regions have gone to white. Also, the graph curves, so that there is a rapid transition from black to white, with fewer intermediate values. But notice that the curve is not an even curve - it has a bulge in the top half of the graph. This bulge drags halftones toward lightness, and clusters them in the bright range.

You will notice that this image looks much more similar to an Ingres drawing than does the first version: it is composed of flat bright regions, falling off abruptly toward darkness, with little in the way of middle values.

It doesn't take Photoshop to accomplish this gamma distortion. All it takes is knowing what you're trying to accomplish (or, in my case, figuring it out quickly while sweating bullets at Spring St.). Consider the Claudia drawing again:

You think those shadows under her butt were that light in person? Fuck no. They were pretty dark. But the halftones were dragged toward brightness by the nonlinear gamma of the representation, and they wound up pretty light. On the other hand, the shadow beneath her neck was just a little darker - so it started to fall off the cliff of that steep curve toward really dark.

2. Finicky line

This technique lives and dies by line - choice of line, and quality of line. It is a simplifying technique, and the line must be consistent with that. Extraneous lines must be eliminated, and remaining lines must be traced out beautifully. Whether or not you think I hit any beautiful lines in this drawing, the principle stands: that because line is so important to the paradigm, the character of the line must be clear, specific, and well-executed for a drawing inside the paradigm to succeed. Of the 40 minutes I had for this pose, I spent about 12 on the lines alone, an unusually high proportion for me (I'm a partisan of the let's-wing-it faction of art).

3. Precision of form

Line must be executed brilliantly because it is so explicit in the Ingres drawing. Form must be executed brilliantly, paradoxically, because it is not. What I mean is, the tonal compression of this technique eliminates much of the information about form available to the eye through halftone rendition. This means that the Ingres drawing depends unusually heavily on the information-completion procedures of the visual brain. Therefore, the half-destroyed traces of form found in the drawing must correspond unusually precisely with those information-completion procedures in order to invoke them correctly. Practically speaking, it means that if you want to use the Ingres model to depict a figure, you have to really know the jesus out of your anatomy.

A failure to know the jesus out of anatomy is amply demonstrated by a different, and enormous, body of work. The Ingres technique is closely related to a second technique: pencil drawings by not-very-talented beginning artists copied from pictures in Playboy magazine. I'm not going to provide any examples here, because I'm not in the business of trashing innocent dilettantes, but Hef long ago figured out the same thing Ingres did: diffuse frontal lighting looks great on the figure. So when people who are clearly never going to be functional artists take it into their heads that they're going to draw nudes, and go to the obvious source for the non-serious art student, they stumble immediately on Ingres lighting. And invariably, they soon figure out to blend their tones by smearing their pencil marks with their thumbs. Also invariably, they incorrectly invoke the form-completion software of the brain, because they don't understand a thing about anatomy.

4. The well-placed dark point

Here we begin to depart from the representational altogether and enter into the purely compositional elements of the technique. Look at Ingres's 1815 drawing Lady Harriet Mary and Catherine Caroline Montagu:

This time around, consider the darkest points in the picture: the curves where the hats meet the (caucasian) girls' heads. A couple spots where the taller (blindingly white) girl's shawl meets her shoulders, the bow under the shorter (pigmentally challenged) girl's chin. And a few other points.

The function of these points is to organize and focus the composition, and round out its range of values from full white to full black. While these are necessary functions, it was not necessary that these particular points be chosen for the purpose. Any number of points could have served. Ingres chose these points for a reason described by art teachers as "wanting to lead the eye in a particular way, or emphasize certain structural features of the figures or narrative properties of the scene." I personally have never believed this kind of thing is so explicit for an artist, and prefer to phrase it that he chose these points because they felt right. Anyway, he had a lot of leeway with his choices. There is always a lot of leeway in this mode when choosing the needed points of maximum dark.

In the Claudia drawing, I placed my darkest darks where her raised near arm meets her side, at the deepest incurve of her waist, where her butt separates from a fold in the cloth underneath her - and on the lower curves of her farther breast and rib cage. Why up there? Who knows, it seemed like a good idea at the time.

5. Good sense

All this exposition has hopefully made a couple of things clear - a. that successful use of the Ingres technique depends on a higher skill level than most other branches of realist drawing, and b. that within the realm of realist drawing, it is perhaps the most subtly but radically expressionist of modes. Because it fools the eye into considering it realist, while partaking of such extreme stylization, it affords a very broad field for interpretation. Beyond all of the mechanical considerations covered above, and even beyond the semi-abstract consideration of the well-placed dark point, the technique depends on inspiration, on a well-formulated vision, on taste and style - on all the things that go to make up good sense. Consider again Ingres's more fully-rendered study for La Grande Odalisque:

It remains mostly white. But look at the majesty of curve, where he has found the outlines. Consider the eroticism of the selected shadows - her armpit, the lower curve of her breast, her butt, her thigh, the shadow of her arm, and the bases of her toes. Where Ingres's eye has snagged, your eye snags. Where he has adored a form, you will adore a form. What he craves, you too must crave. This image is not a representation of a thing that exists in the world. It is a conversation between Ingres and his model, and Ingres is doing most of the talking.

Now, I'd like to offer the usual caveat. I've talked up the skill involved in making an Ingres drawing, and I've talked some smack about people who do it wrong. I've offered a drawing of my own as an example of the technique. And the caveat is - I'm not making any claims of success. That's not for me to decide, and trust me, my judgment is harsher than yours anyway. I offered my drawing because this subject was on my mind while I drew it, and I learned as I drew, and I felt like I could illustrate many of the principles I'm discussing by reference to it. It is very possible for a picture to demonstrate a principle without also demonstrating it well. I'm still learning.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

small neighbors/Microbiota

The story of the microbe paintings and the show they're in starts with my friend Erika Johnson. Erika is one of three people I know who have what I think of as pure creativity. Let me explain what I mean. Here's a diagram of a snap-analysis misreading of creativity:

In this analysis, one starts down a specific well-defined road, and reaches the goal toward which the road leads. This is almost never true of actual creativity, and it's debatable whether its products are genuinely creative. I'm thinking of any number of quirky romantic comedies produced by mini-major studios in the 1990's.

My own experience of creativity is rather more like this:

In this version, I have a range of possible outcomes, any of which would work for me, and there is no road. Rather, there is a field. Many paths can be blazed through the field, so long as they result in an outcome in the desired range.

Now here's Erika's radical form of creativity, as I understand it:

This is creativity as pure play. There is a start point, a possible field, and no goal. There is only the act of following where the prior step has led. It is impossible for anyone, including Erika, to anticipate what she will wind up producing.

A few years ago, Erika learned how to reverse the lens on an ordinary webcam. This procedure turns the webcam into a video-enabled low resolution light microscope. So naturally, Erika obtained some local pond water and started looking at it through iPhoto:

She found it teaming with microbial life. In response, she made drawings, paintings, clay sculptures, zinc prints, and ultimately, a body of videos and still photographs. She eventually called this project small neighbors.

some of the enormous body of work constituting small neighbors

This is where I stumble into the picture. I saw an album of Erika's photographs of microbes on her Facebook profile:

At the time, I had been thinking about things I could paint that weren't naked women. Don't get me wrong, I remain a member in good standing of the naked-women fan club, Brooklyn chapter. But I was thinking that my artistic range was getting a little cramped. So when I saw these pictures, I immediately wanted to paint them.

Why? Well, they were representational, but only just. Within their loose representationalism, they were close to being pure studies in the elements of composition. Masterful studies. And they had soft edges. I'm interested in soft edges; I think the edges of many of my objects are too hard.

So I asked if I could paint some of Erika's photographs. And - what utter luck - it turned out she had been kind of hoping I would see her pictures and think of that idea. Her problem was that, being low-resolution, these images cannot be made large except by painting them. Painting is usually an information-subtractive process. In this case, it was an information-additive process. Also, she happened to like my work.

Here's some more utter luck: Erika already had a solo show of small neighbors scheduled at Brew House SPACE 101 Gallery in Pittsburgh, another one of those old industrial buildings that's been converted into a hip art zone. Erika, being completely generous, asked if I would participate in the show, converting it from small neighbors to small neighbors/Microbiota (adding my name for the series of paintings I had begun). I said, "Uh, yes."

That was around June. I've been painting microbes like crazy since then. My creativity, as I've been explaining, is much less free-form than Erika's. I'm not only comfortable working toward a goal-range, I can hardly work without one. So I brought a different methodology to my contribution than Erika brought to hers. Hers is an exploratory work of years. Mine is a sprint of months. I do work on a field, not a road, so I zigged, zagged, and reversed a few times. But I always sprinted.

Let me acquaint you with my unsuccessful attempts at reading Watership Down. As a child, I got through most of it several times; and each time, I would get to some point where I would say, "But they're rabbits. Who cares what happens to a bunch of rabbits?" And I never finished it.

I won't claim that I didn't have similar boggings down with the Microbiota paintings. I've already bitched about painting all the algae in this one:

Microbiota #7, oil on canvas, 48"x60", 2011

Unlike when I was a child, I am now able to say, "I knew why it mattered when I started, I'll know why it matters when I finish, and for now, even if I'm in the midst of it and I've forgotten what I'm doing, I have the faith; piertotum locomotor!" Art is inspiration, and the rest of it is will.

So I painted seven Microbiota paintings, completing the last one in just enough time that it didn't actually smear when I stuck it in an SUV and drove (well, Charlotte did most of the driving; driving in the northeast scares me) to Pittsburgh.

Thereat, we stayed with Erika and her girlfriend Lynn (a professor of rhetoric!) in their house, the kind of three-storey place you and I can't afford in New York. Erika had hung most of the show:

I helped with hanging the rest. It looked fantastic. And I understood my work in a way that I hadn't understood it before: as part of a continuum of pieces revolving around a theme, ranging from tiny pucks of incised clay to eMacs playing live video feeds of magnified water. It was a two-person show, but most collaborations, in my experience, have a lead collaborator. I am not the lead on small neighbors/Microbiota - my paintings took their proper place as seven of the objects arranged, carefully and ever playfully, in the mind of Erika.

As for the opening itself, it was on Saturday, October 15th, and it was really nice. Charlotte had a great time. My dad and his excellent girlfriend drove down from Toronto. The opening was enthusiastically attended by Erika's friends, as well as a pleasing number of black-clad art-opening attenders:

Erika demonstrated her microbe-observation apparatus and technique:

This was good. The work can be joyful, or not, but it is always hard. Showing it is one of the big rewards.

With lots of love and gratitude, Erika - thank you.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Every Single Time, It is a Struggle

You have recently seen me box my own ears over the worrisome possibility that it is getting too easy for me to paint the things that I paint. Now I'd like to argue against myself again, by means of two examples.

Here is the current Blue Leah painting - one of two torsos I am planning for the series:

Blue Leah #5, oil on canvas, 48"x36", 2011 (work in progress)

I think this is going pretty well. During the last session, I painted the belly. I slouched toward this passage feeling fairly lowly about it, having in mind everything I had said about getting too good at what I prefer doing. If there's one thing I prefer doing, it's painting women's bellies. I love bellies. I've painted a lot of them (bellies, I mean, but women too, who have bellies). So I kind of felt like a complacent jackass, getting ready to paint this one.

But then I started, and all that self-disgust evaporated, because I came face-to-face with a fact I had forgotten since last time I painted a woman's belly: that painting bellies is as hard as fucking hell.

Every single time, it's that hard. It doesn't get easier. The belly is a large expanse of subtly varied structure, reflected in subtle shifts of light, shade, and color. Too much subtlety and you get mush - too little, and you get an anatomical cartoon. To paint a belly is to skate over a vast floe of difficult choices, each of which must be resolved correctly and in the moment to produce an overall sense of bellitude. I spent seven and a half hours painting this belly, from the bottom of the breasts down: three with Leah present, and another four and a half alone and tearing my hair out. Then I gave up.

Not long after I gave up, I looked at this belly again, and I thought, "This is a good belly." And I breathed a sigh of relief.

Every single time, it is a struggle.

Let me tell you about a different struggle I had recently. Here's a painting of some strands of algae, part of a group of paintings of microbes about which I'll tell you more very shortly:

Microbiota #7, oil on canvas, 48"x60", 2011

This is quite a large painting - 48"x60," in fact. Here it is in context, so you can get a sense of scale:

I spent several days painting those strands. I knew what the painting would look like when I got done - I think it looks cool. I think it is luminous and carries a feeling of translucence and aquatic clumping and drifting. But painting those strands of algae, while not technically difficult, was in the aggregate not unlike watching radar. It was brain-burningly repetitive and maddening. It gave rise to paranoia and despair. Sometimes you just force your way on through - for days and days.

Two struggles: to do it right, and to do it at all. I should worry less about complacency, and more about just doing the work. The work will take care of everything else.

Now, what about this group of paintings of microbes? As you may have guessed from the in-context photograph, it is part of a show, my first two-person show. I'll tell you the whole story in the next post.

Monday, October 3, 2011

What I Did On My Summer Vacation, Part III: An Appointment at Strandgade 30

Let us continue with the theme of ambiguity. This is the last of my current cluster of thoughts on the four completed Blue Leah paintings. Careful examination of the prior posts will reveal that only three such paintings have been discussed. Here is the fourth:

Blue Leah #4, 2011, oil on canvas, 24"x36"

I hardly ever paint the back of the head, face-addict that I am. But the back of the head is expressive too. Its language may not have so many words as the front, but they are powerful words, and different from the words of the face.

I am gluttonous for contact. I like to establish a connection with the people around me. The vocabulary of the face on the theme of contact is larger than that of the back of the head.

The language of the back of the head tends toward lack of contact; a connection broken, or not yet established. It is a language of few words, but its words have multiple meanings. The back of the head, brought to the focus of a painting, carries ambiguity.

Pursuing the logic of rotation in my Blue Leah series, I came upon the back of the head, and decided to follow the logic here too. The ambiguous psychology of the faces in the paintings eclipsed all of the available certainties when she faced away from me. You know me - I'm something like a scientist. Like scientists, I want to know. It was not easy for me to decide to paint the back of Leah's head. There was something heartbreaking about it for me; a tragic sense, deriving from the idea that all time is time that can be spent getting to know. If we don't optimize our means of knowing, then the time we spend in this inferior state is time we don't get back. There are six hours of time lost in this painting, knowledge I will never again have time to uncover. Nobody will.

The goal of the back-of-the-head painting cannot be knowledge; it must be a willing entry into a state of unknowing, or of limited knowing. The enjoyment of, or benefiting from, this ambiguous state, this ignorant state, must be its own reward. There is no other meaningful door to the painting of the back of the head.

I did it, and I liked the result. Of course, I was reminded, shortly after the fact, of a painter I really like very much: Vilhelm Hammershøi. If Denmark can be said to have produced a Vermeer, if it even needed a Vermeer, then surely Hammershøi (1864-1916) is the Danish Vermeer. Consider what I have been claiming about contact, and lack of it, in these two paintings:

Vermeer's The Kitchen Maid, c. 1657, versus Hammershøi's Young Woman From Behind, 1903-4

The compositions, the range of colors, the angle and quality of light, all are nearly identical. In neither case is the figure explicitly aware of the viewer, or looking at the viewer. But Vermeer's kitchen maid belongs to us, and we to her. Such is the force of the human face. It binds us. By contrast, Hammershøi's young woman does not belong to us, and we might not belong to her.

Hammershøi made quite a career of painting women in rooms facing away from the viewer. We learn from the teachings of Wikipedia that a great many of these women are his wife Ida, painted at home, an apartment at Strandgade 30, Copenhagen. There seems to me a kind of scorchingly Scandinavian quality to this fact. If Vermeer represents a fulcrum between the warmth of the southern part of Europe and the chill of the north, Hammershøi uses Vermeerian artistic instruments to do for painting what Strindberg does for theater, Kierkegaard for philosophy and Bergman for film. He brings the cold: buttoned up in its presentation and anguished in its soul.

I've been wanting to talk with you about Hammershøi for a long time. I don't think I am Hammershøi at heart, but Hammershøi speaks to me. His speech is vivid and his message resonates. He is well worth some study. Consider another example of his work:

Strandgade 30

What I see here is a sense, not only of muteness, but of being trapped in a labyrinth. The labyrinth consists of those rooms within rooms, each tending toward darkness, each penetrated to some extent by a chilly daylight. The exterior is glimpsed, or unseen; going outside is no longer an option. Life is a matter of transit and rest between rooms, and contact between occupants is impossible. They share a domesticity but their distance is unbridgeable.

I think of Hammershøi's world as a completely determined world. The orchestration and depiction of elements is so meticulous that all parts of the image must be understood as meaningful. Nothing here happens by accident. The sitter is not turned away from us by accident, but rather by necessity. It is essential to her nature and her relation with the viewer. It is so essential that we cannot assume she has a front side. She is existentially turned away; she has no face, she cannot have a face. In this house of creaking floors and ticking clocks, perhaps of sounds of traffic coming muffled through the windows, she is a monster of solitude. Theseus and Minotaur alike have long since wandered off. We are alone with dust and floorwax and quiet.

I don't necessarily think you should take my word for this. But let me illustrate a little better what I mean by the essential turned-awayness of Ida Hammershøi. Here is a painting by contemporary painter Karen Kaapcke:

Emily, 12"x12", oil on board, date unknown

Kaapcke has a body of work devoted to the backs of heads. But consider here how contingent the back-of-headness is. The head is full of detail, motion, vitality. It is turned away, but this turn is a gesture; it could change at any time. This person has a face, we just can't see it at the moment.

Here is another Kaapcke:

Destiny, 12"x12", oil on linen, 2008

Again, we have a glimpse of an individual swimming in a world of chance and change. Look at the idiosyncrasy of the bumps on the skull, the vivid hard light. This is just the same as a portrait, only the person happens to have turned for a second as the viewer was stumbling in.

Now return to Hammershøi's stifling apartment at Strandgade 30:

Lady Reading in An Interior, date unknown

Ida is reading a newspaper now. Perhaps we want to say something to her, but she will not hear, and never turn. She cannot. And we cannot make her. There is nothing on the other side. She is settled, as still as a statue; the gestures of marriage have ossified, stiffening from total comfort into total alienation.

Later still, Hammershøi, perhaps himself the Minotaur, will seek Ida and fail to find her:

Sunshine in the Drawing Room, 1903

The room will be heavy with memory, but she will be nowhere to be found. He will roam the labyrinth in a panic:

White Doors, 1905

But her vanishing is as absolute as her turned-awayness. Once she is gone, she is always gone, has always been gone. The quiet pounds in his ears.

This is the important part: the quiet pounds in our ears as well. Hammershøi the man suffers intimations of grief, of distance, of longing, and of menace. Hammershøi the philosopher sees a metaphysical necessity in the sensations of the man. But Hammershøi the artist records and transmits this universe. He overwrites our own universe, he compels us, so long as we are trapped before his paintings, to participate in his loneliness.

This is a triumph of art as communication. I will not trouble you with any sentimentalisms about Hammershøi transcending his solitude by communicating it to us. There is no redeeming communication here, only the revelation of one of the thousand faces of the truth. Hammershøi remains alone, and through his masterful communication, we are now alone as well. His artwork is a trapdoor into his labyrinth.

It should come as no surprise, then, that if Kaapcke's contingency represents one end of the back-of-head spectrum, and Hammershøi's essentialism the other, I fall closer to Hammershøi than to Kaapcke. Of course I do; I do not paint that which might be otherwise, because I have no talent for perceiving alternatives. To perceive an alternative is to engage in hierarchical thought, and I do not think hierarchically. My hierarchical sense is flattened, I do not prioritize or sort. My eye consumes my mind; whatever is in front of me is all. In my universe, what is collapses into identity with what must be.

Reasoning thus on the back of the head, I see that what I've done with Blue Leah #4 is to artificially overlay a hierarchy on my simplistic value system. I favor faces because the maximum of ready information and connection lies in faces. The informational transaction between an external object and a viewer is one of the major loci of art. It is my native stomping ground.

Contrariwise, the detachment of the viewer - the self - from the external is another major locus. This is the art of self-travel, self-discovery (or at least, it is more directly so than externalized art). To explore this vast inland, the exterior world must often be dampened, as Hammershøi dampens; or replaced with semiotics, as the expressionists and symbolists replace. I have imposed hierarchy in this painting by dampening my connection with the exterior. Painting the back of the head does not, ultimately, result in a low-information image. It results in an image where the information is dug up from the viewer, not transmitted from the model. This is a harrowing and difficult sort of excavation, and it takes restraint and self-discipline even to ring the doorbell of Strandgade 30. But it is an appointment worth keeping.

Note: with many thanks to Karen Kaapcke for her kind permission to reproduce her beautiful paintings here. You can see more of her work here.