In 1960, Henry Miller published a long essay on painting. In it he paid homage to the wonders and joy of practicing the art.
“I remember well the transformation which took place in me when first I began to view the world with the eyes of a painter. The most familiar things, objects which I had gazed at all my life, became an unending source of wonder, and with wonder, of course, affection.”
“What the painter sees he is duty-bound to share. Usually he makes us see and feel what ordinarily we ignore or are immune to. His manner of approaching the world tells us, in effect, that nothing is vile or hideous, nothing is stale, flat and unpalatable unless it be our own power of vision. To see is not merely to look. One must look-see. See into and around.”
Ulanova colors a dreary winter with these paintings of every day people of Moscow. Perhaps she is returning home from a gray job on a gray day—for so many in Moscow and the world beyond, afternoon wonder came out of a lunch bag and satiated the baser needs of appetite. “It was a good sandwich,” “Damn this weather!” “If I scoot out early, I can make the 5:15 metro”.
“…objects which I gazed at all my life…”
Whether she knows it or not, Ulanova has immortalized the mundane. I know this rosemary seller, better than I sense my neighbor two doors over. I may wake from a dream of him tomorrow, or on my eightieth birthday. I’d rather envision a rosemary bouquet on the street than car exhaust chemicals smeared on the snow. We are all free to choose what to put in our minds.
Lena had a choice. She could have gone home and listened to her sandwich digest on a winter’s night of discontent, or do like Henry Miller and practice a daily affection for the “unending source of wonder” which sadly evades so many of us on our blended days of bland routine. Happily, she chose the latter.
Now I know the reader in the painting below, and the fearer of microbes too. I have learned another lesson on painting.
Thank you Henry Miller and Lena Ulanova!