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Lions Roar : November 2009
SHAMBHALA SUN NOVEMBER 2009 68 we can enchant ourselves by paying deep attention. My life has been changing; I’ve been near death several times, experienced the illness and death of loved ones, and the simple details of being have become precious. but I also relish life’s sensory fes- tival and the depot where nature and human nature meet. ev- erything that happens to us—from choosing the day’s shoes to warfare—shines at that crossroads. To reflect the instantaneous takes time, and Monet achieved it through a sort of reverse weathering, like the build up of crys- tals. In increments barely visible to the naked eye, he layered one brush stroke upon the other, sometimes just skipping a dry brush across the surface to create a flickering quality. Other times, he mixed colors right on the canvas so that you can see the pig- ments meeting and blending. Or he painted in corrugations— heavy brush strokes applied perpendicular, touching only the ridges of the thinner layer underneath. “Fat over thin” is basic to oil painting, and for a painting to dry properly, each layer should be thicker than the one below it, layer upon layer, and progressively oilier, or it risks cracking. Unlike thin- ner fluids, oil paints don’t evaporate as they dry but oxidize—they rust!—which can take months or years. Many art conservators re- gard an oil painting as truly dry only after eighty years. so, although he painted instants, it took them nearly a century to solidify. For years after Monet finished a painting, even while viewers admired it, the pigments were still in motion, changing invisibly before their eyes. In his eighties, with failing eyesight, he once more painted the steeply-arched Japanese footbridge in his garden. This time he painted it in thick autumnal colors—brown, red, gold, orange, and green streaks—with only the merest suggestion of a bridge, its rail- ing slabs of blue, the sun vertical brush strokes of ochre and white shining through the open panels. It doesn’t give the impression of a mist-clad morning softening the edges of things and veiling summer’s shrieking greens and florals. Instead it’s an abstraction seen by a deteriorating eye, in jagged edges, angles of paint, and heavy strokes of color declaring their relationship to one another, their strings to the world, their reflection of the rising sun, and their debt to Monet’s aging grip on the instantaneous. It’s as if he were reaching a brush-wielding hand back on stage from the wings, waving to an audience whose rough whereabouts and clothes he remembers. A Monet still animated, creative, and alive, but declining, not fading but its opposite—becoming heavier- handed and more abstract. even with most of its details gone, his world still existed as changing instants of color. “I only see blue,” he complained to a doctor at Giverny in June 1924, “I no longer see red... or yellow. I know these colors exist because I know that on my palette there is red, yellow, a special green, a certain violet; I no longer see them as I once did, and yet I remember very well the col- ors which they gave me.” his sunrises from this period look dark to us, and they did to him, too, but only after several operations to have cataracts removed. Then he looked at his recent paintings, dismayed by all the brown, and destroyed some. When the cataract scales fell from his eyes and he saw the world restored, he repainted some of the water lilies, making them brighter than before. To his friend and