I regularly take trips to uptown New York City, to view the paintings of Sorolla. There is one huge painting featuring enormous oxen, a boat with a billowing sail, and leather skinned fishermen- and the painting is entitled “Afternoon Sun.” If the painting is about these hulking, masculine objects, then why is the title about the sun? Did Sorolla mess up?
It is because the painting is more about the light falling on the objects, than about the objects themselves. This single epiphany is the hallmark of all great painters. It is the same in music- we listen to Puccini, or to Cesaria Evora, or to Jorge Cafrune, and though we may not understand any of the words, we still experience the transport of the melody fused together with the phrasing of the words. Immaterial light is the framework upon which we hang the skin of the object, immaterial sound is the framework upon which we hang the skin of the spoken word- but in the end, it is one inseparable structure that stands.
And so, when I set up my easel to paint, and as my brush mixes the paints on my palette, I run my eye over the patterns of light, I think about what difficult work it is to be in the dying industry of fishing, and I paint.