Smelly birth

Painting is born in a smelly studio. – JIM ELKINS

Actually, this reference to Jim Elkin’s thoughts on painting should have been part of a talk on the sense of smell in artistic production I gave in Thun a while ago. Sorry, Jim!

Here is the full context:

”I was a painter before I trained to be an art historian, and I know from experience how utterly hypnotic the act of painting can be, and how completely it can overwhelm the mind with its smells and colors, and by the rhythmic motions of the brush. Having felt that, I knew something was wrong with the delicate erudition of art history, but for several years I wasn’t sure how to fit words to those memories. […] It is important never to forget how crazy painting is. People who buy paintings, or who write about them, tend to think painting begins in the cosmopolitan world of museums and art galleries, and that its meanings are explored in departments of art history. But painting is born in a smelly studio, where the painter works in isolation, for hours and even years on end. In order to produce the beautiful framed picture, the artist had to spend time shut up with oils and solvents, staring at glass or wooden surfaces smeared with pigments, trying to smear them onto other surfaces in turn. Painting is peculiar in that respect. […] Waking each morning and going into a room suffused with the penetrating sharp odor of turpentine and oil, standing at the same table so covered with clotted paints that it no longer has a level spot for a coffee cup, looking at the same creaking easel spattered with all the same colors—that is the daily experience of serious painters, and it is what tempts insanity.” – JAMES ELKINS

Elkins, J. (1999). What painting is: How to think about oil painting, using the language of alchemy. New York: Routledge, p. 5f, 140. 

Join 1,735 other subscribers