“How fathomless the mystery of the Unseen is! We cannot plumb its depths with our feeble senses – with eyes which cannot see the infinitely small or the infinitely great, nor anything too close or too distant, such as the beings who live on a star or the creatures which live in a drop of water… with ears that deceive us by converting vibrations of the air into tones that we can hear, for they are sprites which miraculously change movement into sound, a metamorphosis which gives birth to harmonies which turn the silent agitation of nature into song… with our sense of smell, which is poorer than any dog’s… with our sense of taste, which is barely capable of detecting the age of a wine!
Ah! If we had other senses which would work other miracles for us, how many more things would we not discover around us!”
― Guy de Maupassant, The Horla
Yesterday I finished the painting above, a 12″ square canvas that is scheduled to head to the Kada Gallery in Erie for my show, Sensing the Unseen, that opens there on December 1. It’s a piece that feels faithful to the theme of the Kada show– that there are energies and forces swirling around us that are imperceptible to our senses. I’ve often felt that one of the purposes of art is to give these forces shape and form.
To make the Unseen visible.
And I think this painting is a good example of that thought. Its simple forms, lack of detail and sparse narrative elements might seem an unlikely setting for the unveiling of hidden forces.
Or maybe these things make it the perfect setting for doing such a thing. Distraction is stripped away. The whiteness of the moon at the horizon becomes a central point of focus. The lightness of the landscape (is that snow?) and the path push the eye further inward, past the windowless houses that seem to act as boundary markers between the known and the unknown. There is a created sense of depth and space that belies the tight dimensions of the picture plane. It all makes you feel as though there is something ponderous, something that begs to be known in that space.
Even the color creates a mysterious paradox. It feels cold with the whiteness of the snow and the moon (or is it a sun?) yet the underlying magenta makes it feel warm. It seems perilous and cold yet still feels warm and inviting. It pushes away and pulls in.
Or it’s just a simple little snowy landscape.
I chose its title, Mystery of the Unseen, from the paragraph at the top taken from a short story, The Horla, from the French master of the short story, Guy de Maupassant. It’s a horror story describing how an unseen alien force– an extraterrestrial– inhabits a man, controlling his mind with the intent of conquering humanity. It was the last story he wrote before being committed to a sanitarium, where he died.
I guess that’s the dark side of the unseen.
Hardly the feeling I experience in this painting.