Zipping along, cinema through the window

skyI can’t, to this day, connect with most color field paintings. They seem austere, argumentative, and closed off from discussion. I like art to ask questions and invite dialogue, but color field painters seem to write manifestoes that pound home points and dispel all questions.

On the other hand, I have always loved the voids of color created by James Turrell. (Olafur Eliasson‘s color field environment at Arcadia as well). One of the things those artists offer is an experience so open you can interpret it variously. It’s you and the void, just think what you will.

I was reminded of Turrell when I was flying over Michigan at 35,000 ft., and the world outside the window seemed to divide itself into two, equally unreal-looking realms — blue, intense and sweet, and white, soft, thick and fluffy.


The fields of color divided precisely but there was a brushy, almost painterly aura to the atmosphere where they touched each other. I knew it was sky and clouds but it became more — and less in a way — a kind of dreamy, atmospheric cinema, abstract and concrete at the same time.

The scene didn’t last long as we zipped along and soon the clouds parted as they do.


But, as sometimes happens, another plane was in the vicinity. I didn’t see the plane clearly, but I saw its exhaust trail — a black gash in the white skin of the clouds.

A Barnet Newman zip painting coming to life right there in the sky!

I’ll take Turrell over Newman any day but I may have to go stand in front of a Newman again and see if there’s room for me, too, in the painted atmosphere, like there was room for me in the sky.