Lessons in Looking

Looking, I mean really looking, is one of the best of the many unspoken lessons I have learnt from my mother. She is without doubt the queen of observation, her knack for noticing the smallest, normally overlooked details – the tiny purple glint of a wild violet in the woods, the flutter of a sparrow darting from view, the geometric reflections of one building shimmering on the side of another – revealing a world of colour, detail and pattern; hidden joys that are there for the taking. 

Sometimes with pictures it’s easy to think of the whole – what a work is depicting, when it was painted, who the artist is and what they were doing at the time – instead of noticing the small things that really matter: the smudge of scarlet on the lips of Picasso’s Rose period portraits, the way Manet used white, detonating tiny strokes that explode like pictorial grenades, the assuredness of that single stroke in Matisse’s line drawings – these are the kind of details that reveal the hand and eye of an artist, and make a painting a masterpiece. 

So here are some of the paintings in which I think you can get lost in looking at, ones that every time you return you’ll notice something totally different... 

 Manet,  Young Lady in 1866 , The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.  

Manet, Young Lady in 1866, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.  

 Christopher Wool,  Untitled (2000)

Christopher Wool, Untitled (2000)

 Willem De Kooning,  Whose Name was Writ in Water , 1975. Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York. 

Willem De Kooning, Whose Name was Writ in Water, 1975. Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York. 

 Joan Miró,  Chiffres et constellations amoureux d’une femme (Ciphers and Constellations in Love with a Woman) , 1941. The Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago. 

Joan Miró, Chiffres et constellations amoureux d’une femme (Ciphers and Constellations in Love with a Woman), 1941. The Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago. 

 Paulo Uccello,  The Battle of San Romano ,  circa 1438-40. The National Gallery, London. 

Paulo Uccello, The Battle of San Romanocirca1438-40. The National Gallery, London. 

 Jackson Pollock,  Blue Poles [Number 11, 1952] , 1952. National Gallery of Australia, Canberra. 

Jackson Pollock, Blue Poles [Number 11, 1952], 1952. National Gallery of Australia, Canberra. 

Words by Annabel Matterson, The Iris Letter April 2018.