Friday, February 02, 2007
In The Real
The only art I saw as a kid was reproduced in books, catalogues and prints. As an adult, I scan the web and the art pages of newspapers every day, searching for exhibitions I want to see "in the real". My boyfriend laughs when I talk about seeing art in the real. Having grown up in Europe, in a well-known creative family, both the concept and the grammar amuse him. Still, he understands better than I do that reproductions are, at best, rudimentary and nothing like the rich experience of real art. This hit me for the first time when I walked into an exhibition of paintings by Jeffrey Smart. In reproduction, his works looked completely smooth and hard edged. When I saw them in a gallery, they were immediately familiar but with each step I took toward them, their surfaces began to come alive. I felt as if I could walk into the paint itself. The subtle changes were mesmerising. Tiny brushstrokes became apparent. Hues that at first looked solid were revealed to be delicate and unexpected combinations of different colours. Details that seemed clear and precise at a distance merged together close up. A hand became a tiny, abstracted pink claw. Facial features softened into painterly masks. Everything hummed with movement, yet was still contained by the strong shapes of the composition. It created a beautiful sense of tension – and slight unease. I have difficulty remembering the works by Smart that I've only seen in reproduction. They blend in with the thousands of reproduced images I've absorbed in nearly 30 years. However, my memories of experiencing them at that exhibition are intense. I recall the different ways each painting unfolded to me but there are also fragmentary, almost physical sensations, as if I really had stood inside each world he had created on canvas.