Slow Dancing at the Gallery
(The Eyes Have It, part 2)
I look at looking, mesmerized by how people view pictures in a gallery. It’s a fascinating mental choreography, this business of looking at art. Through the years I’ve reluctantly come to realize that far too many people look at art as if channel surfing television. A kind of Attention Deficit Disorder on a societal scale. We demand instant sensory satisfaction. When the goods aren’t easily delivered we move on quickly, never looking back. To our detriment.
The art of Belgian painter Maria Swinnen, on view at Main Hall Gallery on the Kent Stark campus through April 3, calls for a slow dance. Partnering with the ephemeral. Indeed, here Swinnen has partnered with fellow Belgian, Johan Teirlinck, a philosopher and author. Their joint installation is called “Mental Spaces.” You could, to some extent, call Swinnen’s work a visual manifestation, or illumination, of Teirlinck’s ideas presented in his 2005 book, “Today’s Mind: Mental Space, Contaminations and Serendipity.” But even without reading the book, which addresses “the world in our head,” Swinnen’s paintings are, in their own right, a captivating union of cerebral musings and haunting, visceral visions.
Swinnen’s paintings seethe with intense and subtle surface workings, mysterious depths, and shapes both amorphous and specific. They conjure memories recent and ageless, personal and universal. Paintings like “Pompei,” with its sketchy torso rising from a scuffled, fleshy ground, or the somber and eerie “Frozen Bed,” evoke the familiar as well as the enigmatic.
On Friday, April 3, Second April Galerie will host a presentation (with images) by Swinnen and Teirlinck from 6 to 7:30p.m. in the gallery’s Kathleen Howland Theatre. While you’re in the gallery, look for the paintings by Martin Bertman.
Like Teirlinck, Bertman is deeply grounded in philosophy, and his paintings share a similar spirit of visual exploration with Swinnen’s. Call it a kind of runic rumination. And like Swinnen’s paintings, Bertman’s are not immediately “beautiful” in the tradition of Caravaggio, van Eyck, or Monet, to name only some. Nonetheless, they are beautiful renderings of separate, personal, and perhaps even archetypal realities, and well worth our undivided attentions.
At one point in the film, “Lust for Life,” Kirk Douglas as Vincent Van Gogh, through his inimitable gritted- teeth, snarls at a flummoxed Anthony Quinn, playing Paul Gauguin, “You look too fast!” Likewise, take your time when looking at the art of Swinnen and Bertman, and for that matter, any art that at first may seem resistant to your advances. Leave the remote at home. And rather than hip-hopping by the picture, try doing a tender waltz with it. Such work deserves an intimate pas de deux.
Look slowly. Live longer. Savor the dance.