Monday, September 5, 2011


Last fall my 11-year-old grandson broke his wrist when he fell from his pogo stick.  Not a big deal in itself, except that he broke his right wrist and that made writing (and because I was teaching him to draw and paint), very difficult. 

We adapted: he posed for me, and I explained to him how I made the picture as I worked.

Trouble was, I had made a painting using him as a subject when he was five months old.  He liked that picture.  He did not like this one.

Zig Zag Josh, Oil on canvas, 2010, Private Collection 
Baby with Ball, Oil on canvas, 1999, Private Collection


After a back and forth debate on my work process, he asked, “Why can’t you just paint it like you did the other one?”

“Because I can’t,” I replied.  Then, to be more precise, I added, “because I don’t see that way now.”

In other words, as the saying goes, I changed my mind.  To be more precise, my perception changed.

What I just described explains how I adapted new visual ideas resulting in a transformation of perception.  I used two very different subjects separated by an 11- year span; this is not the definition of pentimento.  Pentimento means the artist has changed his mind either during the process of making a picture or after.  The same picture.  The word derives from the Italian pentirsi, meaning to repent.  Pentimenti (the plural) may show changes in composition or reveal over-painting (via X-rays, infra-red reflectograms, and photographs), a covering up of the first painted application.    

Table and Flowers, the Ed Loper painting I showed you in the last post, is a good example of pentimento.  He changed his mind after he completed the picture you studied.

I first saw the original painting in Ed Loper’s house.  Then I later saw it in an exhibit at the Stuart Kingston Gallery in Wilmington, Delaware.  Then I purchased the painting last week.

Before I purchased the painting, I analyzed the picture in the previous post using a digital image Ed’s wife Janet provided me.  When I picked up the painting a few days ago, I knew immediately that the image was not the same as the painting now in front of me.  In that instant, I remembered Ed telling me at the exhibit he had “re-worked” the entire picture.

Look at the two images below. On the left is the digital image I first used, and on the right is a digital image of the painting I bought.

Table and Flowers 1 

Table and Flowers 2


My reaction, I am embarrassed to say, matched my grandson’s.  I grumbled, “I liked it the way it was. It was perfect.  Why did he touch it?”

When rationality returned sometime later, I knew I had to get to know the painting now hanging on my living room wall, not the image.  And, to be honest, I would have had to do this anyway, even if Ed Loper had not changed a thing, because the painting hanging on my living room wall is not the same as either of the digital images above.  That is the frustrating, but true, fact we have to remember when we look at digital images.  A digital image bears the same resemblance to an original painting as a description of sex bears to the actual sensuous encounter—a very different experience. 

We must work with what we have.

List what you see as the differences, and then compare your list to my list below.

  1. Painting 2, at first glance, looks cooler.  This results from the application of cerulean blue in the wall unit, the plant in the left corner, and the addition of a carpet on the floor.

2.     Painting 2 looks lighter.  The drama of Painting 1, a result of the darker background wall setting off the sharp brightness of the chair cushion and the tabletop, now has become a softer, more suffused, pinkish glow.

3.     What Painting 2 lost in color drama it gained in spatial drama: the space opens up on the right because the table is smaller and the floor unit now contains two deep pink bands that push back in space.  Moreover, the tabletop now tilts further up rather than sweeps downward to the right.  The “surfboard” has become an elevated rounded oval on which the objects precariously hang.

4.     That plant. When I first saw Painting 2, that one unit disappointment me the most. In Painting 1, the plant swelled, pulsed, and danced as it connected to and “rode” the “surfboard.”  Soutine-like in exuberance, its energy captivated me. In Painting 2, it quietly glows in a cool fusion of greens, blues, and violets, creating puffs of luminous, rounded, volumes receding into the corner.  To give the devil his due, this does make sense from the point of view of reality.  That said, it also makes sense from the point of view of rhythm: those “puffs” now connect to the flowers on the right, the fruit in the bowl on the table, and the foliage outside the window.

5.     The tablecloth, the unit that established the rhythms of bands and stripes in Painting 1, no longer sparkles in Painting 2 but, instead, resonates with a depth and richness of oranges, yellows, reds, and greens that reoccur in the edges of the picture frames, the chair slats, the cabinet, and the stripes on the floor.  The tablecloth also possesses a more illustrative lacy edge, and that “lacy-ness,” as a color unit, connects with the pattern on the flowerpot on the cabinet as well as the patterns of foliage outside the window.

What we have here is a slight variation on the same picture idea.  Painting 1, I said, was not a picture of a dining room, but a series of luminous, sparkling, fiery, geometric, solid, color units that push and pull through relatively deep, color-in-light space.

Painting 2 is not a picture of a dining room, but a series of luminous, rich, warm, geometric, solid, color units that push and pull through deep, color-in-light space.

When I asked Ed Loper why he felt the need to “re-paint” Painting 1, he shrugged and said, “I did not feel satisfied.  Something was wrong.  So I fixed it.”

I eagerly anticipate my getting to know Painting 3, the one hanging on my living room wall.



  1. re: Grandson painting...Perhaps your perceptions have changed, but we don't really know that from the two paintings you did because your grandson changed as well. In the recent painting he comes across as long and lanky, in pain, shy, mid boy and man. You have captured that and not the plump, all-embracing baby he used to be.

  2. I agree that my subject changed considerably. However, I also see changes in the "way" I orchestrated my grandson's 11-year-old qualities: more Matisse and less cubism.