Monday, January 30, 2012

A Mystery: Paintings Never Painted

In Michelangelo Antonioni’s 1966 film “Blow-Up,” a photographer suspects a picture he took almost randomly in a park may have unwittingly captured an image of a crime or the aftermath of a crime. But the details in the background of the photo are too small to see clearly. In his darkroom the photographer creates larger and ever larger prints from his negative. Eventually he creates a print that is so large the image depicts the random grain particles of the film negative as much as it does the scene from the park. The photographer’s neighbor comes in and, unaware of what the photographer is doing, looks at the large print and observes, casually, that the image looks just like one of the abstract paintings her boyfriend paints.

For me that moment would be my pick for one of the most incredible moments in all cinema.

Earlier in the film when we see her boyfriend’s abstract paintings, they are hardly worth a second look. They seem to depict nothing, just random shapes.

Later, when we know the photograph contains the image of a crime, the enlarged grain particles from the negative present the appearance of being random but we know they contain critical information. We can almost see it.

The blow-up print from the film negative becomes a kind of backward comment on abstract art—Does abstract art contain critical information as well, just above or below our threshold of perception?

Although the film is ostensibly a mystery story, by the end it has become a comment on the nature of reality, or at least the nature of our perception of reality.


This weekend I had intended to do some painting but I never did. I’ve got some heavy card stock that can stand up to being properly prepared with gesso and I’ve got some modern, high-tech water soluble oil paints. But I’ve never even taken the plastic wrap off the paints.


You can mix many pretty types of gray
if you start with four high-chroma colors.

Red mixed with green right from the tubes make gray.

Red mixed with blue will create a purple
and that purple mixed with yellow make gray.

Red and yellow mixed together make orange
and that orange mixed with blue will make a gray
that doesn’t look quite the same as the gray
made with the same paints starting with purple.

Yellow and blue isn’t quite the same green
as green from the tube and when mixed with red
it is still another version of gray.

And of course black and white straight from the tubes
make gray with almost no color bias
although it always will be warm or cool.

But if you never unwrap the plastic
and take the tubes of paint out of the box
you don’t get any shade of gray at all.

I talked to a pretty woman about
politics over the weekend. She said
talking politics gave her a headache
but she’s the one who brought up the subject
when I was talking about cameras.

Talking politics gave her a headache,
she said, and then she told me all about
why she supports the Occupy movement.

I’d rather have talked about cameras
but I listened because she was pretty.

I should have stayed home and unwrapped my paints.

I should have stayed home and mixed up some grays.

It’s a mystery to me. I mean paint
wrapped in plastic. Paintings never painted.

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