Learning to See Through Their Brushstrokes and Their Paint (Francis Alÿs, Matisse)

In this little gem of a video, artist Francis Alys transforms our view of the harsh, dull, strangely monochrome landscape of Mosul, Iraq, where he was embedded with American soldiers. We had not seen the colors in that landscape until Alys showed us, and the possibility of hidden colors is now reverberating in our daily landscape here.

Soon after, we opened the great The Art of Looking Sideways to this excerpt from Patrick Heron’s Painter as Critic:

Years before, staying on the tip of the Cap d’Antibes, in 1948, and walking along the road on the eastern side of the Cap, I had suddenly seen that we had arrived at the subject of the Matisse painting, Route sur le Cap d’Antibes, of 1926, complete with every angle of the road and, again, the pine branches. Edging into a corner of the wall on the landward side of the road, until I felt I could photograph Matisse’s subject exactly as he’d seen and composed it, my elbow was pressed hard into the mossy stones of the wall. It occurred to me to peel the moss away from those stones. And sure enough, there I found old palette scrapings of scarlet, ultramarine, violet, lemon and emerald, all oxidizing deep in a small crevice. Thrilled, but not surprised, it was a discovery I still recall with intense emotion. To have the experience of standing precisely where the great painter once saw what he saw — and to know that what he saw was what I now also saw, but saw through his paint, through his brushstrokes, through his selected distortions of the visual data yielded at that exact point in the landscape…this was an experience which it was essential to have. It conferred the ability to identify with the near past, and to share an exact experience with a great painter. 

Henri Matisse

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