In art one must not start with a complication but work up to it; not begin with the fable of Ulysses, to astound the reader, but with a simple, ordinary man and, little by little, give him the significance of Ulysses.
Cesare Pavese, Diary, 8.23.1949
I’ve been thinking about Pavese again as I’m revisiting some of my prior writings. There are a few writers who have been especially influential for me over time, the two most important being Italo Calvino and Cesare Pavese. Calvino for his inventiveness, and Pavese for his incisiveness. Pavese especially has a way of stating things so simply and so brilliantly over and over again that its both inspirational and intimidating, and that gives so many levels of meaning to even the simplest acts. He was Italy’s greatest post-war writer. Lines from The Devil in the Hills appear almost verbatim in Antonioni’s film l’Aventurra Basically, if you like Antonioni, you’ll like Pavese, probably more.
Pavese’s diary entry above might be an especially interesting one for a painter, particularly a painter of still lifes. I’m thinking of Wyeth, whose object-based portraits of people say more than their faces ever could.
Bringing about the apotheosis of the ordinary through art is an extraordinary achievement, especially visual art, because we don’t have the luxury of building scenes upon scenes over time like in a story. Each image must state and imply, (or denote and connote), and the power of the implication is the power of the art. How we do this, or try to, is the tricky part. Craft, genius, a mix of the two, whatever. This is what Pavese did so well, this is what Wyeth did so well.
This year, I want to be more deliberate about the connotation of my paintings (not all of them, of course, because painting itself is so much fun for me, it’s important just to do it, even if there isn’t much to it), and in so doing, I’ll be drawing more on my literary and critical theory side. As a nod to that, I think some books will start appearing in my work, especially still lifes. Who better to start that off with than Pavese for a little sketch.
Thanks for reading. Happy New Year!