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My favorite thought provocateur these days (actually “these days” is actually now several months) is Juhani Pallasmaa, architect and author of The Eyes of the Skin. Here are a few more of his insights about seeing, the dominance of the eye, modes of vision. (Other great quotes from Pallasmaa that I have posted here: Focused vs Peripheral Vision; Inside and Outside, at the Same Time; Mind and Eye;The Eye in the Hand; Human Rootedness; Fully Engaged; Sensory Intimacy, in Art and in Architecture.)

Perhaps, freed of the implicit desire of the eye for control and power, it is precisely the unfocused vision of our time that is again capable of opening up new realms of vision and thought. the loss of focus brought about by the stream of images may emancipate the eye from its patriarchal domination and give rise to a participatory and empathetic gaze…

The haptic experience seems to be penetrating the ocular regime again through the tactile presence of modern visual imagery. In a music video, for instance, or the layered contemporary urban transparency, we cannot halt the flow of images from analytic observation; instead we have to appreciate it as an enhanced haptic sensation, rather like a swimmer senses the flow of water against his/her skin…

David Michael Levin [author of “The Opening of Vision”] differentiates between two modes of vision: ‘the asssertoric gaze’ and ‘the aletheic gaze.’ In his view, the assertoric gaze is narrow, dogmatic, intolerant, rigid, fixed, inflexible, exclusionary and unmoved, whereas the aletheic gaze, associated with the hermeneutic theory of truth, tends to see from a multiplicity of standpoints and perspectives, and is multiple, pluralistic, democratic, contextual, inclusionary, horizontal and caring. As suggested by Levin, there are signs that a new mode of looking is emerging.

The sense of how water feels on the skin when we are swimming. Saying yes to the “multiple, pluralistic, democratic, contextual, inclusionary, horizontal and caring” gaze. Nuggets to carry today, in the studio and out.

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Sensuality afoot at the Metropolitan Museum

The gift that just keeps giving…I don’t think there is a single page of my copy of Juhani Pallasmaa’s The Eyes of the Skin that isn’t marked up and annotated. Although Pallasmaa is an architect and writing primarily about that metier, his book is full of passages that are a parallel reflection of my own views on the visual arts (and painting in particular.)

I hope my ongoing reference to his work is of interest to some of you too.

Beyond architecture, contemporary culture at large drifts towards a distancing, a kind of chilling de-sensualisation and de-eroticisation of the human relation to reality. Painting and sculpture also seem to be losing their sensuality; instead of inviting a sensory intimacy, contemporary works of art frequently signal a distancing rejection of sensuous curiosity and pleasure. These works of art speak to the intellect and to the conceptualising capacities instead of addressing the senses and the undifferentiated embodied responses. the ceaseless bombardment of unrelated imagery leads only to a gradual emptying of images of their emotional content. Images are converted into endless commodities manufactured to postpone boredom; humans in turn are commodified, consuming themselves nonchalantly without having the courage or even the possibility of confronting their very existential reality. We are made to live in a fabricated dream world.


Brooklyn Workshop Gallery: Paintings by Deborah Barlow and sculpture by Rina Peleg

Beautiful imperfection: real beauty is rooted in reality. Give up the pursuit of perfection—visual perfection can be cold and unforgiving. Things yield their value at different rates. Enjoy things that aren’t obviously beautiful, or even a little clumsy, if they engage the senses in other ways.

So says Ilse Crawford, designer and creative director who launched British Elle Decoration 20 years ago. “Engaging the senses” is more than just employing the see/touch/taste/feel/ear array of experiences. There are variations within the visual that continue to astound me as I paint, all these years later.

And yes, it is a recurring theme. I have referenced the extraordinary book, The Eyes of the Skin by architect Juhani Pallasmaa in an earlier post, but have yet to write in more detail about how powerfully this book has deepened my understanding and awareness of these issues. It is such a great title and such a great concept. That discussion is coming, I promise.

In the meantime, I loved what artist and critic Susana Jacobson wrote about my work in the show currently on exhibit at the Brooklyn Workshop Gallery. I was flattered by her words of course but also so enchanted by her suggestion of the all-seeing body, its pores employed with their own kind of seeing:

Deborah Barlow’s newest paintings are sensually generous offerings of luminous color. Like wet light tossed up and caught in acts of implication, they conjure the multiple sensations experienced when our physical boundaries are dissolved. Merging with places where nature and culture intersect, Barlow converts her powers of observation to the experience of vision as a whole body sensation, as though her pores could see.

And some good news—the show has been extended through August. Heading that way now to do a few days of gallery talks and events.

You can read another review of the show by David St. Lascaux at Interrupting Infinity.