Twilight in Old San Juan Day Two: Finishing the Drawing and Reading Pavese


After a brief hiatus for Father’s Day and some work that carried on through the evenings, I am getting back into this painting of Old San Juan. Though it’s only been a week, I had to spend time reacquainting myself with the subject, so I focused on the drawing again. I cleaned up the left side and drew in more of the details, then masked some of the areas I want to focus on later.

I am finally ready to start painting, which I won’t get to tonight. I am still wondering what to do in the bottom left corner. The two figures in the photo are actually me and my older daughter, and our presence doesn’t quite fit the mood I want to convey. I will have to put some different figures in, I think. I will make that decision once I start painting. I don’t want to overdraw, and if I don’t move on, I will.

In thinking about that decision, I have been thinking about Pavese, and how well he sets a scene. I will quote one of my favorite beginnings to a novel. Here is the first paragraph of Pavese’s Among Women Only.

I arrived in Turin with the last of the January snow, like a street acrobat or a candy seller. I remembered it was carnival time when I saw the booths and the bright points of acetylene lamps under the porticoes, but it was not dark yet and I walked from the station to the hotel, peering out from under the arches and over the heads of the people. The sharp air was biting my legs and, tired as I was, I huddled in my fur and loitered in front of the shop windows, letting people bump into me. I thought how the days were getting longer, that before long a bit of sun would loosen the frozen muck and open up the spring.

In such a short space Pavese lays out the narrator’s character, the city, and the mood, not just in the present scene, but also for those to come. Look at the last sentence: “loosen the frozen muck and open up the spring.” This is typical Pavese. At first blush, this appears hopeful–the coming spring–but a spring of loosened muck is as foreboding as it is promising. Sure enough, within the first few pages, a failed suicide is revealed, and the narrator gets caught up in the sad affairs of a group of rich women.

This is the trick that I one day hope to accomplish in a painting–all of the details coming together to convey the depth and complexity of mood in a space and the lives that occupy it.


3 thoughts on “Twilight in Old San Juan Day Two: Finishing the Drawing and Reading Pavese

  1. laber1 June 21, 2013 / 6:34 am

    Using Pavese passage to support you painting goals makes it exciting to anticipate. (Also makes me want to read Pavese!) I will miss the two familiar figures on the right as they added a two-generation element to the old city filled with past generations’ stories. In fact I wasn’t sure it was who I thought it was.

  2. Hal Aber June 24, 2013 / 8:42 pm

    I’ve been thinking about this for a few days and hope I can covey my thoughts well. Representational painting often implies a narative because the image painted in perspective appears as a window into a world or a snap shot of an moment. The modernist movement after the post impresionists began removing the narrative from representational painting and focused on the physical environment as a depiction of space. When figures were represented it was more about scale or how the space was physically used or experienced. Reference Cezzanne and Dierbekorn. The scene you selected could combine both intentions – spacial and narrative. I like the stairs without people on them but would suggest a person at the bottom of the stairs looking up at a couple on the terrace above engage in conversation. I think this would create a dynamic tension between spacial and narrative motifs. Color ans gesture could reinforce the dialogue. At this moment I do not like the solo figure but this figure may become useful in its apparent isolation IF you use figures in the rest of the painting to covey discourse in active ans passive modes. The figure(s) at the bottom of the stair engaged in dialogue with those above could be “framed” by a figure in the widow above as an observer. Then the lower figure that is NOT engaged fills of the story of engagement set within a spacial context that is the stage for discourse. The application of color can then be used to support the drama. This reminds me of Hopper and his introspective psychological work. I shall be very interested to see where you take this. Can the abstract eye live with the narrative tongue?

    • coreyaber June 24, 2013 / 11:12 pm

      Great comments. This gives me a lot to think about. I am uncertain about my ability to pull off so many people in the picture, but will have to try a few studies.

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