Mom, we’re not going to the picture place, right?”
My six-year-old son, who has a habit of trying to guess where we are going, senses that we are on our way to yet another art museum. As is often the case, his intuition is right: we are headed to the Legion of Honor in San Francisco.
In the museum’s outdoor plaza, he shows a slight interest in Wangechi Mutu’s Crocodylus, a bronze work portraying a crocodile carrying a person on its back. But as soon as we enter the museum, he feels its atmospheric stillness and juts out his lower lip.
“Mom, let’s go home right now.”
Embarrassed by my fussy child, I adjust my goal to getting through the galleries quickly without causing a disturbance. Rather than basking in the art, I power through the museum halls like an athlete.
Then, I happen upon a painting that I know at once is Renoir’s Landscape at Beaulieu. It stops me in my tracks.
This article appears in the Winter 2022 issue of Alta Journal.
His depiction of the sky, trees, and everything else in the landscape is so fluffy and ethereal that I’m instantly transported to the world he paints, leaving this chaotic one behind for a moment. His bold brushstrokes, which leave no clear outline between the leaves, branches, and fruits of the trees, tells me he painted in absolute freedom. Because the blue color in the sky is present in the leaves of plants and the roots of trees, and the whites and yellows of the clouds are also in the soil, fruits, and foliage, it seems as if the colors are not fixed in a single place but continuously float on the canvas, giving the painting a sense of order and stability.
I think, “Yeah, that’s it—the style and atmosphere I want. What I can do and what I can do better!”
My favorite works are ones that push me out of the museum and into my studio. The moment I see Landscape at Beaulieu, I am jolted awake from mother mode and metamorphosed into a painter with an all-consuming urge to create. Renoir’s work has always had that power over me.
“Let’s go home,” I tell my son. “I have to paint right now.” He’s overjoyed—and so am I.•