Today is Slow Art Day. It's celebrated, this year, at more than 270 venues throughout the world, where hosts at galleries and museums invite participants to join them in a festival of slow looking. Check out the Slow Art Day site for an event near you.
I celebrated slow art early. Thursday's "One Hour/One Painting" session at Laguna Art Museum was a great success. We sat with a large abstract expressionist painting by John Altoon--one of the Ferus Gallery artists, who struggled for years with mental illness and died of a heart attack in his early forties. He was a large .presence in the nascent Los Angeles art scene in the 1950s and 1960s, described by the Ferus Gallery pioneer Irving Blum as "dearly loved, defiant, romantic, highly ambitious--and slightly mad." All of which appears in the painting that we sat with, a turmoil of color applied not only with thick brushwork but scraped on with trowels and palette knives--and who know what other implements. It provided us with plenty to explore in the course of the hour, and with, for me, and I think for others, an enormous aesthetic and emotional reward.
I was glad for its considerable size, because the group was one of the largest that I've had for a "One Hour/One Painting" session. The space in front of the painting, too, was large enough to allow for the arrangement of chairs so that everyone could get a good sightline. My main strategy was to suggest the superposition of an imaginary, nine-square grid on the painting to bring the viewing areas down to manageable size, and to work through the painting in these sections before putting it all back together for the unified view. This allowed participants to take the time to become acquainted with the detail of the entire surface of the painting, without being overwhelmed by its sheer size and complexity.
My own take-away had to do with the emotional intensity of the painting, and the sense that it's possible, through an artwork, to come to know something of the inner life of a fellow human being--his passions and rage, his doubts and certainties, his struggle with the always evanescent possibility of serenity. For me, it was one of the most rewarding sessions I can remember. The painting has left its mark on me more memorably than many of the others I have sat with for the hour. The response from participants in the event suggested that they, too, had been similarly moved, and felt similarly rewarded.
This afternoon, I'm hosting my own "Slow Art Day" event at Peter Blake Gallery in Laguna Beach. If you're in the area, I'd be happy to have you join me. It starts at 2PM.