September 20, 2010

Small Art


Smallness in visual art evokes images of exotic Persian miniatures, an exquisitely rendered Chinese fan, a page from an illuminated manuscript, and sumptuously painted portraits on ivory. Gems such as these are more intimate than art admired from afar. They can be possessed and held close to the heart.

But even if small art is not possessed but only shared by their private owners or seen through the glass in a museum collection, they charm and fascinate. The delicacy and intimate scale of these works exerts a hold upon the viewer from behind their glass cases that is quite distinct from that of larger scale works. The consummate care and skill with which an artist rendered images for private use and for which he would consequently perhaps never hear public accolades is enchanting. Modest, lovely, and desirable - small artworks are exciting for prodding the psyche into believing that having is within the realm of the possible.

I have always been charmed by small art - netsuke, snuff bottles, Persian and Indian miniatures, small ivories. It is a sentiment that was never entirely erased by a culture that prefers big and loudly broadcasted statements of art to these tiny whispered secrets. I sometimes prefer the larger works too, but I hold a place in my heart and in my home for smallness.

The two works I have posted today are miniature paintings numbers twenty and twenty-one (the computer was unavailable for uploads yesterday) of my daily work on the “Thirty-three Days of the Puma” series. I was thinking of Persian miniatures and British ivory paintings when I made them. Although these paintings are not nearly as skilled as the works that influenced them, they still, I hope, hold something of their spirit. They are tiny - just three and a half inches tall by five inches long. To paint them I used a Chinese brush made for miniature silk paintings. Since I was trained by a master silk painter in China, I do at least know something of the brush work that is required to accomplish the long sinuous lines. These are particularly evident in the tethers on the big cat at the top.

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