Newsletter Fall 2018

The Silk Merchants, Experienced Phenomenologically

by Eric Bess, Cohort ’16

A colleague and I turn the corner to enter a room darker and bluer in its appearance. This gallery is lined with what appears to be French academic paintings of the 19th century. The bluish hue of the walls contrasts beautifully with the golden glow of the frames that hold the paintings. I become excited but control myself. My colleague and I talk while glancing around the gallery. I’ve already seen several paintings that interest me but decide to continue engaging with my colleague before moving closer. During our engagement, other spectators enter and leave the room, and for a moment their speech is suspended and entangled with ours in the containment of the gallery.

  The Silk Merchants  by Edwin Lord Weeks.  Image Source

The Silk Merchants by Edwin Lord Weeks. Image Source

I finally move close to a painting entitled The Silk Merchants by Edwin Lord Weeks. We both are impressed by how the painting is painted. She is happy to see brown bodies in the painting. We talk about how the painting is painted by a white male and is most likely considered Orientalism.

As we talk, we both move in really close to the painting. She comments on the texture of the paint itself and how she enjoys the plasticity of the paint. I agree. The paint is packed-on thick in highlighted areas which allows those painted figures to occupy not only the space within the frame but also the space from which we observe it. Details within columns are almost calligraphic in appearance. They seem to have been done quickly and effortlessly and simply sit on top of the columns on which they are painted.

We move away to look at the painting from a distance. Magic appears. The details of the painting are absorbed into the whole. The thick paint becomes a roundness of form and brings those painted figures to the forefront of the picture plane allowing for a depth that would otherwise be absent. The calligraphic lines melt into the columns they sit upon. The particular intentions of the artist are seemingly unified into a whole scene of buying and selling fabric.

We don’t talk, however, about the subject matter of the painting. There are implications made by the image and its title that would be engaging for us. We, however, only speak on its appearance and leave our subjective inquiries and interpretations to live in our inner-worlds.

She asks me about a painting I’m painting of her. I compare its size to the painting we are observing together. She compliments me by suggesting my work can hang in this room. I look at the painting we’ve been observing and smile. Exiting this space, we enter a new one.