Saturday, May 19, 2012

Art and the Voice of Silence

It was, fittingly, while waiting for my vision to be tested this past week, that I found a magazine called (I think) Art and Antiquities, with an article about the work of Helen Wilson, a New York painter who has been working for more than forty years painting clouds and skies. Included were some fine reproductions of her paintings.

Her style is aptly called abstract impressionism. Wilson's canvases show her experiments with varying shades of color as she tries to find the "color within the color," as she puts it, as she tries to capture the subtleties of time as it alters nature. It's as if each color has an infinite number of nuances, as if her brush were a string producing an endless series of notes or a pen creating words with such refinement as to suggest the timeless within time.

This reminded me of my own explorations, in a 2010 article in Cithara, of the relation of silence and the arts. Paintings, in particular, often speak in the timeless voice of silence when time tends to stand still.

I always think of Vermeer's "View of Delft," in which the 17th century Dutch master captured the present moment as it was becoming past, with darkening clouds suggesting an imminent storm that will never come. The viewer of such a work, like that of Helen Wilson, is suspended, the eye so totally absorbed in reflection that our consciousness surrenders its usual sense of self-preoccupation.

So we stand before such art in the timeless present, as it is evoked in silent meditation. It's no wonder Proust, with his preoccupation with time, found "View of Delft" the greatest of paintings. He would appreciate these subtle experiments with clouds and color by Helen Wilson.

Looking at this article, which I could not, unfortunately, rip out and bring home with me, I was amazed at all it evoked: reflections on light and seeing, on time and nature, on clouds and the soul of the sky (as the article was called), on stillness and the timeless present, and on reflection itself, in more than one sense.

Who knows what would happen if I stood in front of an original by Helen Wilson? Even with these illustrations to gaze at, my eyes were opened to the richness of much abstract art as well as to the ability of painting to express what Andre Malraux long ago called voices of silence.

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