Tiny Stories, Tiny Tales

 

Sitting on the train ride home, squeezed uncomfortably near a fellow passenger due to our bulky coats, a painting I had seen earlier at the Art Institute that day flashed across my mind. “Wrapped Oranges” by William McCloskey is a tiny oil on canvas, a mere 12”x16”. It is a still life of six oranges, two completely wrapped in thin paper, another two coyly peeping out their wrappings and the last two unwrapped. And while the oranges are lovely within themselves, the dark blue backdrop and veneer tabletop create a radiated, shining painting. When I stood at the gallery gazing at the painting, the woman alongside me gasped. She smiled shyly over to me and said, “When I saw this picture in the catalogue I didn’t think it was anything much but now that I see here it…well, I understand.” After all, how many pictures of oranges are there that can make a viewer gasp? Not many. McCloskey’s grasp of the beauty in ordinary objects and his ability to illuminate that beauty to the viewer is extraordinary. I too was taken aback by the tiny canvas and out of the hundred pieces I saw that day, “Wrapped Oranges” stood out like a beacon.

Feeling uncomfortable I was intruding on a stranger’s space in a train, McCloskey’s painting rose to my mind and I couldn’t help but smile and relax in my seat.  Remembering his gem was like a dose of good therapy. I recalled that the world is beautiful and that people have a tendency to want to share that beauty. My own present discomfort would soon pass. Perhaps my fellow passenger wasn’t too discomforted by my closeness. It was rush hour and we were all packed in anyway. After a little bit of gentle conversation, I found out she  had been to the Art Institute that day and she too had seen the beautiful “Wrapped Oranges”. We both smiled fondly, remembering the painting. We compared notes on the exhibit going on, “Art and Appetite.” Seeing and remembering art helped me to relax in my skin just bit more. An uncomfortable position became a pleasant one and while a small thing, it felt large. A tiny yet beautiful painting changed the dreary tone of an evening commute.

Comments (5):

  1. Cindi Eaton

    November 14, 2013 at 3:36 pm

    I came to your website & saw this painting, and even before reading what you wrote, I just stared at the oranges, at the tabletop, at the way the artist painted the paper wrapping the oranges. Though I’m sure there’s much more when seeing it in person, even seeing it here on your blog I was encouraged to pause, to enjoy the pause, the beauty. It was encouraging. It reminds me of the beauty around us all the time that we can miss. That I can miss. I think there’s something really special (dull word for what I’m trying to say) about seeing beauty, or a glimpse of beauty, and be able to re-create it or communicate it to others. Like the artist did. Like what you just wrote here. Thanks so much for sharing.

  2. Catherine

    November 14, 2013 at 4:22 pm

    You’re very welcome. I’m glad you enjoyed it. I don’t know when you’ve been last to the Art Institute but I highly recommend taking some time to head over there and see “Art and Appetite.” I know you cook a lot and the exhibit covers the history of food in art and how people have thought about food in the United States. It’s a fun and interesting exhibit.

  3. Beth

    November 15, 2013 at 7:39 pm

    This was absolutely beautiful!

  4. Catherine

    November 15, 2013 at 10:12 pm

    Thanks so much, Beth! Art truly is magical.

  5. Dan

    December 31, 2013 at 1:42 pm

    I saw this last week at the Amon Carter Museum in Fort Worth. It was in a room that contained other still life paintings. All of them were fantastic! The translucent quality of the tissue paper and the texture of the oranges make this piece stand out. I wonder how long it took to create this single piece – not counting the hundreds of other paintings he made until he achieved perfection.

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Out for a Walk with the Wind and Water

I love being alone in the park along the river. As soon as I step out of my car, I tell that I’m alone by the unusual silence stretching out in all directions. It’s a special sort of hush because instead of human voices dominating the space, it’s the gentle call of birds, animals, wind, and water that fill the air. These are much more gentle and quiet for they represent a continuation of a certain life on this planet, a life much older than humans.

I glow inwardly as I walk the park alone and for the first time in days, I smile to myself. Some Buddha statues wear slight smiles, the internal smile to the eternal world and as the memory of the statues comes back to me, the pleasure of connection causes me to relax even more.

When alone outdoors, I can relate to myself most fully and watch and listen with more mindfulness. I hear the birds first—the chickadees scolding one another and sounding like sweet, soft toy horns and then the cardinals, chirruping and checking up on one another. The sparrows hop and cheep in barren branches, never to be overlooked and always numerous.

Then comes the sound of water, lapping along the riverbank, rolling itself under the bridge.

The wind follows, shifting a blanket of leaves across my path and swaying tree branches overhead. The evergreens branches issue a soft shirrrrr-ing sound as the wind passes through. They retain a green elegance while everything else is brown, stripped down bare.

After I have heard the squirrels cracking walnuts and rustling through the dried weeds, and after I have seen the wind ruffling the river’s top, then finally, I can hear myself. That sound is very low and deep and it takes me a little while to hear it, after the delight of hearing everything else. But it is there and it inevitably opens up what I need to know that day whether it be comfort, direction, an answer, a question, or all of it. It has taken my whole life to hear myself and I have paid a great price for it but I would do it again in a heartbeat. For when a woman has herself, the nightmares slip away back into the inky, black darkness and living life is hers.

And so the wind moves through the evergreens, it plays along the water, and dives between the feathers of the birds. It touches my face and we walk together, two entities atop this impossible blue planet.

Ouroboros in the Park

Japanese anemone flowers open blush pink petals in the park.  Their tall, delicate stems hold up the tender flowers, and in the centers glow tiny pistil-laden suns. Furry carpenter bees buzz in a frenzy, adoring the tiny suns. Like all true worshipers, they circle round and round the yellow centers, smearing themselves in joy and pollen.

I also circle a center, but the object of my adoration is the park itself. As the path guides me around and around, my body, full of the usual tensions and distresses, takes the cue, finds the beat and the measure and walks to it.

The English Romantic Poets of the early 19th century were great walkers and believed that walking was essential to writing to poetry. With the body busy, the mind can walk freely, investing in its visions and tunneling down into what were previously subterranean thoughts.

This small park is my open field, my verdure, my ramble through hill and dale. My feet move on, sometimes slowing to a near pause, other times hurrying, suddenly propelled by a new and vivid notion.

About the fifth time around, a sort of mesmerism occurs and I fall under the trance of the day. The circle becomes a mantra uttered by my feet—knees, hips, shoulders, and arms follow along and we head down the path. I must walk, I must keep walking, I must continue to walk and the resolution becomes a reassurance as a cool breeze fills my lungs; I am alive and refreshed.

I pass under the oaks and dodge their falling acorns. Sometimes I entertain the notion that squirrels are hurling them, but when I catch sight of their small triangular faces they look as startled as me. It is the oaks themselves that are throwing the acorns down. I momentarily consider bringing an umbrella, opening it when I walk under the oaks, but this an old consideration that I’ve been contemplating for years of autumns and I’ve never acted on it. Instead, I dodge and the squirrels stare hard.

Finally I have to go but the revolutions and bees in the park stay with me even after I leave, continuing  with their wheeling. They pass through the days and nights, rapturous and serene, monotonous some days and a miracle on others, and on most days both. They exist in the circle that is sometimes opened, sometimes closed. Within the circle, everything changes and nothing changes each time we pass through.

 

Kazuaki Tanahashi, Miracle at Each Moment