The Painting is slow, dwelt upon


“In the old painting I love, early Renaissance painting, the ‘information’ is fast no? But the ‘painting’ is slow, dwelt upon.”   Philip Guston

I wrote down this quote from Philip Guston in a sketchbook about 16 years ago. I don’t remember exactly why, but the vagaries of my memory lead me to think that a teacher once offered this quote to me directly, and I felt obliged record it. This despite the fact that I didn’t really understand what point this teacher was getting at.

I’ve had no recent revelation about what the teacher meant, and I imagine that if I were to spend time  thinking of why, my own desires would conspire a cocktail that might be far from the initial intentions of that teacher. Memory is a fuck, so I won’t indulge it.

Now though this quote seems present in my thoughts and work. I love contemplating it both in old sketchbooks, and in more recent work. The idea of information and painting being two components of a work, and the subtle power of slowness in painting really resonates with me. I see creating something that can be quickly absorbed on one level and yet dwelt upon and returned to as a fitting goal for painting.

When I’m at the canvas, I let this quote swim around in my mind. I embrace paint’s slowness, and let the brushstrokes, and scraping, wiping, changing, scumbling, and re-working speak for itself through memories and methods. It’s good to see and feel what paint is when you work with it – precious stones ground to pigments. I embrace its earthy origins and its geologic preference for slowness.

The information, the surfaces, the images are, on the other hand, quite different. They are both the gateway to the idea and the glue that holds the image together. I let them ride where they want to. Beaming like lasers to a point.

But while I’m painting it’s all about the paint. The work is always slow ground of rocks building the moments we occupy as creators. Like hiking for the hands and mind.


The painting above, Titian’s Danae, seems to me one such painting  Guston might have referred to. The narrative is immediate, but from a more painterly perspective, so much is happening. So many details to return to and dwell on.