THE COMPLETE SUBJECT

 

She loved most of all the paintings of the Dutch still life masters and specifically the ways they depicted lemons. Lemons alone could move her to tears, joy and emotional depth. Anywhere she could go and observe any painting of a lemon, no matter how small, she went. Standing for hours studying the layers of paint and how much care and accident were accounted for, how the light was handled, the color of the shadow, the gesture of the peel in its composition, the illusion of moisture. She took extreme care in noticing every possible detail, filling up her eyes and trying to seal it into her retinas. She visited art historians, called and wrote to any expert she heard of or read about for references until she felt certain she had seen every lemon painted between 1590 and 1670. She progressed forward and expanded her regional exploration. She went to any home, museum, wall, warehouse, anywhere in any part of the world to see a painting of a lemon, moving forward through history and geography she spent seven years seeing lemons. She made no visual record but wrote extensive descriptions of each lemon, never mentioning the artist, the painting’s title or date. Occasional references to the medium were noted, especially later in her explorations when the traditional oil paint on panel was no longer the standard. She couldn’t discuss art history, track the changes in the progression of painting over time or pinpoint the specialties of one culture’s approach compared to another. Each painted lemon was a new experience, adding to her cumulating experience of studying a two dimensional representation of a sour citrus fruit. She never answered to her fascination when prompted as to why but would launch immediately into describing a specific painted lemon in piercingly and numbingly vivid detail. There was no reasoning only evidence of her commitment.

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After seven years and several meandering and zigzagging trips around the globe, Joanne had visited and recorded over three thousand painted lemons and met at least that many people during that time. When she met Ivan her list of known lemons had been whittled down to the last five, all of which were part of the private collection of Susan Wilding, a photographer and food writer living in southern Arizona close to the Mexican border. Joanne knew that there were more paintings out there but had decided to spend a couple of weeks in a neighboring town to rest and reflect. Some parts of her journey required a pace that she might have been able to keep up with in her twenties but now in her late sixties, she wanted to move a bit more slowly. From what she heard, Susan’s five lemons were going to be special and the journey seemed to be calling her to pause with them.

Joanne had grown used to eating out alone at restaurants and had come to savor those moments. Often at dinner or lunch is when she would reflect on the lemons of the day, focusing her mind’s image on trying to preserve the impact of painted effect. Joanne scheduled her meeting with Susan for the second to last day of her stop and had a lot of time to rest and explore her new surroundings. She found a small Italian restaurant on the outskirts to the north of the town with a small patio that looked out onto the desert. They were never busy and she never saw the restaurant full, even on a Saturday night but they also were never empty. The menu was small and seemed as though every item on it was some variation of the same ingredients and she wondered if the entire pantry was filled with these five ingredients in mass quantity. She imagined neat shelves stacked in perfect columns with canned tomatoes, dried herbs, flour, onions, ground meat and large formless bags of ricotta.

As frequent travelers often do, Joanne settled into a routine in every town she would visit but rarely had so much time to spend in one place. Curiously, the employees of the restaurant seemed un-phased by the frequent presence of their new patron and never once inquired as to where Joanne had come from or why she was there. They didn’t remember her drink order or any other details about her and each time she came to sit down, she would ask for the table at the far corner of the patio, and every time they would sit her there. Perhaps this was exactly what kept Joanne returning to the same place. It was clear that the restaurant was primarily frequented by locals and was not a notable tourist stop. Something about their indifference to her gave her comfort.

Joanne had visited the restaurant now twelve times and was sitting down for the thirteenth time, on the evening before her visit to Susan’s home. Joanne made sure to get to her table before five o’clock as she wanted to eat an early dinner, get to sleep by nine and wake up at four in the morning. She planned to walk to Susan’s home from her motel, a six-mile walk. Susan agreed to meet Joanne at seven in the morning and let her into her home to spend time with the paintings while she worked on an article about a new concept restaurant in LA where the food was served entirely on smoldering wood logs. Susan needed the pressure of the deadline and knew it would be due to the publishers by five o’clock the same day. Joanne would get ten uninterrupted hours with the five paintings and then Susan would make them dinner.

 

 

the complete subject Lydia Rosenberg, 2019

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