Friday, April 12, 2013


Dear Gary,

I trust this finds you thriving, and as deeply immersed in your work as ever.

I wanted to report back to you on the "One Hour/One Painting" session with one of your paintings at the Museum of Art and History in Lancaster last evening because it was, for me and I think for others, a memorable event.  We had a very small turn-out, I think in part because my OH/OP contact list is mostly in the Los Angeles-Orange County area.  Still it was a very special pleasure that the participants included your friend, Randy, who had driven all the way from Ojai for the occasion as an act of loyalty to you personally and to try to come to terms with your work as an artist, which he finds hard to understand.

I was nervous about the painting before we started because I thought that it might be hard for participants to focus on nothing but colored concentric circles for as long as an hour.  I thought that the sustained attention could have a disturbing dizzying effect, and that we might all go a little crazy!  So I made an alternative, just-in-case plan to turn the attention to the adjacent grouping of word/letter drawings halfway through, in case the experience should be proving too intense.

No need for worry.  We spent the entire hour with the single painting--and from my own point of view could have spent another.  I started out inviting the participants up for a close look at the surface of the painting, nose-to-nose with it, so that they could get a sense of the brushwork that went into its construction; I was especially concerned that they take note of the imperfections and the texture of the paint, not readily discernible from the sitting distance.   Then had them walk all the way back to the far side of the gallery, to get the long perspective.

Then we sat.  I'd decided that the optimum viewing distance was about half-way across the gallery, and had the chairs arranged there, assuring that everyone had good sight lines.  I always let the painting tell me where to start and how to proceed, and in this instance we started at the perimeter, because I was fascinated by the way it sat on, and separated itself from, the wall.  The outer perimeter, nearly white, creates a fascinating play with the wall behind it--a halo-like glow at the top, where the gallery light allows for no shadow, and a clear cut line against the shadow it casts below.

From there, we worked slowly inward toward the center, gathering groups of circles into "discs" and paying attention to their relation to each other, whether they appeared to act as concave or convex--and whether the blink of an eye would switch between the two; the illusion of circular movement, one way or the other--or, again, reversing with a subtle change in the direction of the gaze; and the illusion of palpitation, either expansion or contraction, within the discs themselves or in relation to each other.  Reaching the black spot at the center, I myself began to sense two things happening.  The spot would become a vortex, a black hole, tending to swallow everything around it; or become an energy center, a sun, with every other concentric circle radiating out from there.

A wonderfully complex and rich experience, then--and I have hardly begun to describe the whole of it. One thing I wished, in retrospect, that I had made more of, was the aftereffect.  "One Hour/One Painting" involves, as I think you know, a good deal of meditative, closed-eye work, which meant that there was a good deal of time to play with the after-image--an effect that, to my great surprise, I found repeating itself hours later, in my meditation this morning.

I allowed some time for discussion.  I have begun to make a practice of inserting a brief discussion period halfway through the hour, to allow participants some release from the hard work of looking so intently.  We could, at that point, have made the switch to the letter paintings I mentioned earlier, but sensing no objection I returned to the big painting and we completed our hour with, for me at least, and I think for most others, an enormous feeling of pleasure and accomplishment.

I hope you'll have the opportunity to talk further with your friend about the experience.  He struggles with the "why" of it.  He respects you enormously as a person, along with your choice to devote yourself so completely to this work.  But the art itself puzzles, and I think troubles him a little.  I hope the (to him) new experience of meditation and contemplation may have helped him get beyond the "why" and into the simple "thereness" of the painting.  I should have thought to answer his "why" with my usual answer, when asked why I write: "Because that's what I'm given to do."  Or with the answer to that old question about climbing Everest: "Because it's there."  I hope, anyway, that he understood how much I valued his thoughtful presence at the session, and how much his difficulties contributed to the event.

Thank you, Gary, for the loan of your wonderful painting for the evening.  My best wishes to you, and to your family.  I'll look forward to the next time we can sit down together over a glass (or two!) of wine.

Warmly, Peter

1 comment:

CHI SPHERE said...

For years I have followed Gary's work and the newer concentric painting are especially remarkable in their rich variation and quite intensity. The work of John Whitney, American animator, composer and inventor predates his work in film. Albers had a similar concern but Gary is taking it to the stars and beyond.

I had occasion to see his Lancaster exhibition recently expecting to stay for an hour and stayed for three hours. The work reaches into ones soul. I left energized and calm.

Thank you Gary Lang for sharing your heart and soul with the world. It is life confirming to see work that has a deep and indelible effect!