Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Will Barnet Discusses ‘Soft Boiled Eggs’

Will Barnet, ‘Soft Boiled Eggs,’ 1946, Oil on canvas

The idea was to experience physical aspects of forms behind a table, under a table, on the side of a table, and then feeling all these forms in relationship to a background. I had no clue at that moment as to just how I would handle it or how I would relate it. I was still in what I call a fragmentary stage. I had a series of fragments. That’s not a good state to be in because you feel fragmented inside you. These are very emotional experiences. When you’re in that state you worry about whether you are going to be able to put the things together. So I began to make drawings and ideas for it. Then, I would find that they weren’t working and then I’d feel unhappiness about it. This took quite a few months. [Emphasis mine. I’ll revisit this comment tomorrow.] I sketched and drew and composed and nothing was coming of it. Finally, certain ideas began to clarify themselves for me. ... I had a lot of trouble with the woman because she always remained too far behind the table. And the boy that was underneath the table always remained by himself, isolated. I had physical sensations that weren’t being brought together on the canvas. My problem was, in the final analysis, how to get the mother and the child that was underneath the table together. I began to pull the space or perspective of the woman sitting behind the table forward towards the front of the table. Her body was beginning to move from behind to almost the front leg of the table. By bringing her body forward, I related her to the little boy underneath the table and I associated one of his hands so that he touched her on one of the slippers she was wearing. In that way, I had taken two forms and united them into one. Yet they covered a great deal of space. ... As soon as I felt this kind of sensation of relationship, I became more excited about the picture. ... I felt if I had gotten this far I could get further. I was having a lot of trouble because it was supposed to be a birthday party and there was supposed to be a big cake on the table. But the cake didn’t fit on the table. I was very unhappy about that. So then, I put the painting away for a few weeks and tried to figure out what to do. Then, I came, early one morning, for breakfast. My wife had put a lot of soft-boiled eggs on the table, sort of arbitrarily. When I saw those eggs, I said to myself, “My God, that’s the solution!” Because the eggs would not interfere with the horizontal movement of the table, they would become part of that whole plane. Then, the picture began to resolve itself. I still had the young child celebrating the birthday cake. He was celebrating soft-boiled eggs or celebrating anything. It was no longer illustrative. Then the painting became a painting and the story wasn’t as important as the painting.

Will Barnet
quoted in

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