July 11, 2012

The Romance of Worn Surfaces



How much of our response to the textures of old surfaces is colored by sentimentality, an excessive longing for the past, or is something else part of it? To me, these patches of rust randomly scattered across paled red and orange paint are beautiful.




Beautiful too, is wrought iron on weathered wood, a more appealing subject. Am I, are we, able to separate a purely visual response from all the feelings old things call up: a sense of loss, thoughts of the people who used these objects and left their imprint on them?




Perhaps there is less sentiment involved when looking at objects not ordinarily thought beautiful; but then again, the aged surfaces, the variation of colors and textures can transform the ordinary into something extraordinary.




Words and letters are subsumed into the general surface, becoming ghostly.




Subtle shifts of warm rusted colors react richly with the cool blue and green of more freshly painted areas.




To be honest, I can't quite tease out my own feelings about this. The reds wandering across the cool metal touched with rust, alongside the incredible intensity of the mottled orange, give me joy in color and in tactility. When I go out looking for painting motifs, I am usually repelled by the reflections  of shiny new farm machines, which seem cold and hard, so I look only at older machines. I think of myself as responding purely visually, but perhaps there is also the sense of life lived and worked, a feeling of history that is embedded in old things that adds to their meaning; maybe that feeling is not sentimental.


22 comments:

  1. Martyn Ravensdale.July 11, 2012 at 4:26 PM

    Slow changes.

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    1. ah, yes, slow and only visible over time.

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    2. Great post! Terrific photos and pics...thanks so much.

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  2. The Japanese idea- Wabi- doesn't have a counterpart in English, because it is not sentimental. If something Wabi becomes sentimental, it is no longer Wabi. It is a more direct experience; without clinging to it, or without elevating it. It is concerned with things just as they are. Our Western Romantic culture is too dualistic to have a cultural counterpart.

    Enjoyed your pictures and discussion. LPK

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    1. I'm glad you liked the post and discussion, LP. Thanks for your explanation. I also looked up Wabi-sabi, and it seems to be an aesthetic based on "transience and imperfection" according to Wikipedia, Sabi being beauty that comes with aging and wear. So I suppose that the surfaces I depict might fit the concept at a little bit of a stretch, since a machine would be hard pressed to fit.

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  3. Altoon: I think we respond to these worn surfaces for a variety of reasons. Most fundamental, I think, is that we relate or identify with them. We are "worn surfaces," bearing evidence of processes of accumulation and dissipation, forms evolving, phasing in and out of being. Of course, all of nature is in this state of flux, we comprising a small part...

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    1. steven, I personally don't think I identify with these surfaces, though I certainly get your point about all of the world being in flux. I have more of an appreciation, aesthetic and emotional, something more external to my self.

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    2. I appreciate the point, Altoon. For me, though, the dichotomy between the internal and the external is not so clear. Our "identification" with these forms is so much egoic (personal amd conscious) but, rather, a sort of deep, internal "knowing" of some sort...

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    3. That could certainly be part of it, steven.

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  4. There could be a sentimental reaction but that is part of it. If you look at an old hand tool it tells something about how it was used by its current appearance which gives it a mysterious quality. This discussion also reminds me of the book Hitty her first Hundred Years about a doll and her travels.

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    1. alicia, old hand tools are especially touching, aren't they? I don't know that book, but if it's 100 years of a doll's travels, I can imagine it. Someone else mentioned the Velveteen Rabbit.

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  5. Altoon, yes, old hand tools are magical. I remember you did a post about the Shelburne Farm I liked it very much. It seems these tools have a life given to them by those who used them.
    Another book I hardly remember was "When Toys Come Alive" which tries to explore the special quality some toys possess. thanks.

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  6. What beautiful photos, Altoon. You raise an interesting question. In your comparison of newer farm machinery with the old, it occurs to me that, over time, the colors and surface qualities of things like that are absorbed into the natural world, and maybe the acquisition of that harmony is part of what we are responding to? It's like when we have a good friend for some time, the exchange of understanding, the intuitive blending of ways -- or speaking of blending, like the way voices blend in a choir. The new machinery is like a voice that sticks out and hasn't learned how to sing with the other objects, colors and surfaces around it.

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  7. Thanks, Ravenna. Your idea of the surfaces becoming more a part of the natural world is a very compelling one, and the metaphor of blending in, like choir voices, is beautiful and apt.

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  8. I feel it's primarily about color, and colors leading their own lives. It brings out a sensation of wonder and mystery and possessiveness not unlike when you see skeins of wool and silk in a Persian carpet repair shop or pots of watercolors. But those are colors we've captured; these rust or aged colors are always a bit out of reach - they come, as you say, with history and nostalgia and we think, whither? and whence? Thank you again for bringing a joyful fresh look at the world this morning!

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    1. Thank you, Linda, for your thoughts on this subject. Your mention of colors made me immediately think of being in a pigment store with jars and bags of colors.

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  9. When something really has a sense of the personal past like the iron with the wood, I am more sentimental even if only subliminally. I can appreciate the other surfaces for their wabi sabi quality without thinking about the past. They are what they are. And the words make it into a different object because I can't help but read them

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    1. Thanks for your complex response, Ms. Wis. The words are obviously important to me too, and they do change things.

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  10. A painter friend once told me that when Abstract Expressionism first gained attention, "we couldn't look at a crushed cigarette pack on the street the same way again."

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    1. That's an interesting observation, Richard. Of course if we were in Europe, we might say "after Noveau Realisme".

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