“Paint What You See” they say…

10 May 2024

This small gouache was from a road trip through the southwest some years ago. I think this was a back road in New Mexico. I was on an art fairs tour, so I had limited time between destinations. But I was caught by the light on this guardrail against the desert backdrop and mottled sky. I had to take a few minutes to try and catch the light in paint - which made me late arriving. It was worth it.

That gut response to something I see catches me so often! So often I want to stop and catch it, and so often there’s not enough time between destinations.

For the artist, the phrase "paint what you see" means something else. 

It's a call to remove what we "know " from the process of the work, and to put down exactly what we see. Don't name it. Because the instant we name something, our brains switch into what we 'know' about that thing. We're no longer looking at what we see.

This is a mind exercise and a discipline. It takes practice to achieve. Once we gain this skill, it rocks our world. Because it has to do with the nature of perception. It's about being able to expand our point of view at will. We learn to see beyond the constraints of pre-formed ideas. And we all have pre-formed ideas that come from our past experiences. These are valuable. It's also good to have the ability to step away from them, and see the world through a different lens. It's exhilarating. Like cold plunging.

Julia O'Reilly