Rick Mullin

“Work while you can,” says the painter Porbus in Honoré de Balzac’s story Le Chef-d’Oeuvre inconnu (The Unknown Masterpiece). “A painter should philosophize only with a brush in hand.”

I like Porbus’s directive as a succinct artist’s statement, one that emphasizes experience and expression in accord with the aphorisms that guide me in painting as well as poetry:

“We must find a way of saying it without saying it.”~ Duke Ellington
“Knowledge must bow to spirit”~ George Inness
“The truth is buried under a pile of facts” ~Rainer Maria Rilke

Were I to choose one principle, however, it might be Keats’ observation regarding beauty and truth, a line of poetry that academics will quibble over for eternity despite its purity.

My truest guides, however, are the masters, starting with the medieval Christian artists for whom the image is not an image but the revered essence. Then come Titian, Rubens, Rembrandt, Goya and Delacroix in a line arriving at Cezanne, the student of Pissarro. New lines extend to Bonnard and Soutine; to Munch, Ensor, and the enigmatic Beckmann. And to Leon Kossoff, a more dedicated hermit than Cezanne. Which reminds me of Rouault.

But more important than the lines are the colors of a world without lines. Immanuel Kant wrote of the artist “producing that to which no definite rule can be given.” A world in which painters cannot articulate how they come by their ideas. Nor can they produce what they create on demand, execute according to a plan, or communicate precepts that will allow others to arrive at similar results.

Once, when asked how I arrived at a particular style in painting, I blurted out, “By accident.” At least one person within earshot realized I wasn’t joking. So much for technique.

And so much for philosophy. But maybe Balzac’s painter Frenhoffer says it best. “Let’s not analyze it. It would only drive you to despair.”

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