Monday, May 20, 2013

A Day in the Life of a Clump of Plants

Once upon a time, long ago, an artist named Albrecht Dürer spent a day, maybe longer, painting a clump of plants. Five hundred ten years later, I stand in the National Gallery of Art, misty-eyed, seeing what he saw, exploring this section of earth and greenery, Dürer’s gift to me and to all who have discovered it. The room full of onlookers seems to orbit behind me and this intimate watercolor, as I accept its invitation to come close … closer … and spend, though not a day, at least a shimmering moment with stem and leaf and root, remembering my own moments lying in a patch of backyard vegetation or in a mountain meadow, the damp, comforting earth beneath. The work is not scientific—though each plant is identifiable—nor is it a structured composition: It is quiet commotion, gentle wildness, a day in the life of a broadleaf plantain and some dandelions, as seen, rendered, and shared by a masterful observer.
  
Whenever I view an exhibit, I judge the personal impact it has by asking, “Which work would I want to take with me? What is fixed inside my eyes?” The collection includes Dürer’s dramatic woodcuts, his exquisite engravings, his iconic "Praying Hands," his drawing of Emperor Maximilian I, his vibrant "Left Wing of a Blue Roller," but I choose this modest miracle, this Great Piece of Turf.” 

Dürer is gone, these plants are gone, the world topples us at times, but a moment of truth, of wonder, remains.



"Great Piece of Turf" watercolor and gouache


Albrecht Dürer: Master Drawings, Watercolors, and Prints from the Albertina
Exhibit dates are from March 24 to June 9, 2013


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