I am a painter for two weeks each summer, at Art Workshop International in Assisi. This year I came feeling uncertain about what I wanted to do, couldn’t quite connect with anything until I spent an hour or so watching Edith Isaac-Rose paint. I sat slightly behind her, so I couldn’t see her watercolors and didn’t have any idea what color she had on her brush until she put it on the paper in a big swath. I was shocked several times, in the happiest way. Yellow! Red!
We were on the terrace of the Hotel Giotto, the geometry of walls and roofs before us, broken by trees, flowers, chimneys and, in the distance, the mountains, fields, sky. I could see a vague outline of the scene on Edith’s watercolor paper in the beginning; but in time the particulars disappeared, colors and shapes told each other what to do and Edith, stopping, looking, let them do it.
She didn’t explain what she was doing, just did it. In fact, if she had given me a lecture on abstraction, I doubt I would have understood it nearly as well as I understood what abstraction was by watching the scene before us morph into shapes and planes and colors beneath her brush.
Later, I stood before my easel in the studio, looking at the print of a photo I’d taken above the cloisters of the Basilica, thinking, when my friend Charles Kreloff came by and started talking about the planes in it. Suddenly, I saw it in the image in a completely different way.
Over the next few days I did a flurry of abstract paintings of that corner of the cloisters.
I loved playing with the same elements over and over, observing how each painting was the same and different from the others—and it occurred to me that a painter’s material is no different from a writer’s material. The “stuff” from which we make paintings, the bits and pieces of the real world to which we’re drawn because of who we are, what shaped us, is exactly like the stuff from which we make stories. Loaded into the kaleidoscope of the mind, it tumbles into a new painting with each turn—then lifts, morphs to create its own unique piece of the universe.