Here’s one reaction to David Rohn’s recent show of watercolors at the Mitchell-Giddings Gallery in Brattleboro, For full disclosure, David is a friend. He’s an awfully good painter whose reputation stretches far beyond the rave reviews in the local media. I wish I could write like he paints. How I would love to give readers more pleasure than angst, but angst is part of writing, at least the kind I do. My question is whether writers work from different desires, different assumptions than painters. Does the play of light on objects and the composition of shapes and colors aim for the same effect as the written word, that the reader or observer will not turn away? Will he keep looking, keep reading, even remember a image or idea long after he closes the book or walks away from the painting?
You don’t hang fiction on your wall. Reading is an intimate act, a potential bond with the writer. Stories are often written out of pain, and about pain, based on what the writer has lived or observed, the actions of people who inspire his characters. Obsessions need to be made sense of, put into some attractive form. After that, if luck can place the work before a reader, it might be appreciated.
Images from the current exhibition at Mitchell-Giddings Gallery, Brattleboro
In David’s case you pause before rich watercolors depicting the objects of every day life, oranges, leafy greens, a bottle of water, a porch after a rain, a glass bowl on a green cloth, sketched so suggestively that you can see clear glass even though it isn’t there. The shapes are alive, they bleed colors never seen before. The eye zooms in, a prisoner, hooked like the hook in a story – Call me Ishmael! The eye travels where the artist wants it to go, no questions asked. And you say to yourself, I’d like to have that one on my wall.
In writing you turn the page if the story hooks you. You arrive at an ending where characters either come to terms or don’t. They go on living or continue on their path until death makes its statement. Still, the question is whether a writer’s impetus is different than that of a painter. I don’t know what a painter like David starts with. Is it light and the relation of things to each other? These watercolors are all still, there are no people – David also works in oils and the human form, and the source of that work might be another discussion.
A writer can start with anything, a concrete image, a line of dialog, an abstract idea. Does the painter also work from that terrible freedom? Does a painter observing human folly, life and death, somehow invest that in his paintings, into his fruits and jars and plain air scenes? What does he see, and why does he see?
The answer must lie in the mystery, so I’ll settle for Henry Miller’s commandment to writers – don’t be nervous, work calmly, joyously, recklessly….