Knife, Lemon, Plate

Painting a day: Knife, Lemon, Plate
"Knife, Lemon, Plate"
Oil on panel, 4 x 10 inches (10 x 25 cm)


As I was cleaning up my studio from today's work, I got to thinking about the term "Still Life". It's kind of a funny, contradictory label that seems to imply both stasis and action, and has something of the flavor of a Koan (Koans are Zen teaching stories that contain a logical inconsistency meant to disorient the rational mind and lead the student to realize a deeper truth... so I'm told, anyway). The French term strikes me as even odder: "Nature Morte"; literally, "Dead Nature". Also a contradiction, since to me nature usually implies some sort of active, evolving force or process.

Any time we can't clearly and simply name something, chances are we don't fully grasp it. These odd labels we give to this particular type of painting makes me wonder if there isn't something inherently confusing about the genre... to the point that we struggle about what to call it.

In a way this makes sense to me. It's easy to "get" a portrait, because reacting to other human faces is a very basic part of our nature. Landscapes often resonate with emotional states we all clearly experience and identify with. It's a little harder to pinpoint how still life touches us: One could say that we're just painting piles of things; in what way is that possibly interesting? And yet... obviously it does work.

I'm not really sure where (if anywhere) I'm going with this thought; at the moment it's just one more idea rolling around in my head. It does suggest, though, one possible way of approaching still life: Although the objects we work with are in fact inanimate, they should be felt, sensed, and painted in such a way that we always imply their vital, living essence; movement in stillness... stillness in movement.

After all, any work of art is nothing more than a single frame pulled out of the entire movie.