5: Five Letters to the Golfe Juan

Golfe Juan , Paul Signac, From the Worcester Art Museum, 1964.27

Golfe Juan, Paul Signac, From the Worcester Art Museum, 1964.27

The simple story of a person falling in love with a painting told over five letters. 

Mirrors, 3. Une barque sur l'océan, by Maurice Ravel
The Girl from Ipanema by Joao Gilberto, Astrud Gilberto, and Stan Getz
I've Had My Moments by Django Reindhart
Arabesque No. 1, by Claude Debussy
La Vie En Rose, by Louis Armstrong

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Our show art was made by V Silverman. The intro music was recorded and edited by Casey Dawson. The transcript was edited by Amanda Borglund. 


Welcome to Accession. We're at the Worcester Art Museum. Head the to the second floor of the Mosaic Court, and go right as you're facing the woman with the cup placed on her ear. Head through the doors that are just in front of you, and you will be in what is probably the most popular room in the museum. In front of you is a woman, brooding over her current situation; a close up of lilies that might impress you. This room contains some of the museums greatest treasures, and many stories that we will come back to in the future. But if you’ve just walked through the door, you’ve just missed the painting that is my personal favorite painting in the entire museum. Behind you, to your right, is an incredibly colorful scene, that may draw your mind to the warm summer days that are just ahead for us. Today, we're looking at Worcester Art Museum, Accession No. 1964.27, Paul Signac's Golfe Juan.

March 30, 2017

A Letter to the Golfe Juan,
Hanging in the Impressionist Gallery,
Painted by one, Mr. Paul Signac.

I’m sure it wasn’t the first time I had seen you. I swim in your circle often. How many times had I walked through this room; passed you by; spared you a glance, but never truly looked? But when I knew I had to choose one, I knew I had to choose you. Your vibrancy, the way you catch the eye of the beholder and convince it of your definition of beauty. I swim in your circle often, but you mostly stay in this one circle, and don’t swim anywhere else. You are, after all, a painting.

But not just a painting. You are a pointillist painting. And that comes with certain… preconceptions. I’ve heard the old adage, that if you stand up close to a pointillist painting, it just looks like a lot of little dots, but as you move further away from the painting, the image starts to take form. I’m not sure how accurate that is. Are they saying that there is no image when you stand close, that you only have some worth when looked at in this one specific way? But that is not how I choose to look at you now. Whether I am five inches away or five feet, I will choose to look at you for you, and to understand the multiple dimensions of your personality.

Curious then that the first thing I noticed about you was your depth. You portray closeness by more specific colors and details. The orange of the hill, and the purples and reds in the grasses. The yellow flowers along the path are a lovely touch, and bring out the yellow in your trees. The further into you I look, the larger the size of the groups of one color.  The ocean, the horizon, and the sky, all seem to form some tricolour of blue, pink, and white; obscuring the details, and blending them into a washed-out vintage haze. It seems like you see the world in the exact opposite of the faulty adage. The closer the subject is, the more detail you give it. The further away, the less the focus.

This is all the time I have for you today, but I eagerly await our time next week.

Till then, Adieu,
T.H. Ponders

April 6, 2017

A Letter to the Golfe Juan,
Upon a second visit,
Hopefully of many.

My purpose is not precision. Like the one who painted you originally, I am not trying to make an exact copy of the thing before me. Then again, I’m not necessarily going for an impression of the thing either. No, my purpose in sketching you is to see. Sketching requires that the drawer imprint the thing upon their mind, and exprint it from the mind to the real world again, by means of the hand.

I started with the orange, which so dominates the hill to the right side of your frame. Near the center seems to be a few pure, red dots, and around the edges, a few yellow dots. You create an interesting effect: Somewhere right in between these two extremes, red and yellow, you have captured the mixture of orange. And this process is repeated with the other colors in the painting. The primaries, where they exist, are few in number for you. Most of the world is a blend, conceived of somewhere between the two extremes of a spectrum, containing both within them.

I noticed that I wasn’t really drawing one picture but two. The oranges and greens in the foreground are completely missing from the sky, the sea, the lighthouse, and town; so too with the pinks and teals in the background, nowhere to be seen in the trees and pebbles and flowers. You’ve isolated two separate pallets, one for the foreground, and one for the background, and found the balance and mixture between them.

But these two observations, despite their focus on extremes, are really just one. The balance of red and yellow, with orange spots along the spectrum; that’s just the same as the brighter, more primary colors in the front, and the hazier pastels in the background, with the colors of the painting somewhere along the spectrum. And even that is just the same as the hyper-detail in the foreground, and the blurred background, with the image of the Golfe Juan somewhere in between the two.

Somewhere between two points lies a line, between two lines lies a shape; the true image. I think I have finally found it. I think I finally know you.

Till then, Adieu,
T.H. Ponders

April 20, 2017

A Letter to the Golfe Juan,
Still hanging on that wall,
Reunited at last.

This time was different. I sat a little bit further away than I normally do. (I knew you wouldn’t mind too much.) Of course, this wasn’t based on the adage. I wasn’t standing back to finally gain some clarity. The clarity has already been gained. I feel like I have an understanding of you that I can not express for any other paintings. With nothing more than a pen and paper, and a little bit of luck, so much about you has been revealed to me. Your outlook, your aesthetic, your details. And now I can just sit back and enjoy you, you who has taught me so much about beauty.

In the arc of our story together, this is the moment of love. The moment where I sit back, on the comfy couch in the middle of the room. I scratch a few words, but they really signify nothing. Just joy, happiness, upon entering that room, seeing you up on that wall.

Among the words I did write are these; “With distance, little dots can curve. Notes turn to chords. Chords turn to harmony.” There is, I think some truth in all of this, however romanticized it may be. These reflections, these letters, they are merely dots on a page, points, to use your parlance, that tell of mere fractions of moments in our story. Even stepping back, to look at all four letters that I have written up till now is hardly any kind of shape or curve, and certainly nothing new. Just the story of a man, through observation, patience, pen and paper, falling in love with a painting, hanging in the impressionist gallery, painted by one Mr. Paul Signac.

I know this letter is shorter, but I know that you don’t mind. You are, after all, a painting.

Till the next time, Adieu,
T.H. Ponders

April 27, 2017

A Letter to the Golfe Juan,
The last that I shall write,
For my time is up.

These are the hardest lines that I have had to write. This last time… it wasn’t like the last time, or the time before that, or before that. This wasn’t twenty minutes, just you and me, staring each other down. This was a whole afternoon. And it wasn’t just me. It was everyone. Everyone who came through that room stopped to look at you. I should be glad that you are so loved by so many, even if none of them can love you or see you like I do.

And all of them repeat that bit about standing close and far, that adage we abandoned on our first encounter. They haven’t taken the time to know how far away you really have to stand to truly understand.

I know they are not the first, nor shall they be the last. Your permanence on that wall means that I am only a moment, a single point in all of your existence. Maybe I’m one of those dots in the lower corner; not quite a point, held for a little longer than a dot, maybe more of a dash. But still just a  fleeting moment. Just one looker-on of thousands. I suppose I’ve always known this. I could write you letter on letter, page on page, devote hours to studying, looking, and loving you, and I’ll get nothing back.

But maybe I don’t need anything back. Is this why they pray? Is this why they study, and look, and love, but ask for nothing back? I’ve never known why the religious accept the silence until the silence was all that was given to me, and it was enough. Because it’s not just silence. You are a wellspring of love within me. You just cannot speak, or know that you are that, no matter how much I write.

This is my fate; all that I will ever be. Just a dot, maybe a dash, amongst a field of other dots. But I hope that you get a chance to stand back. I hope that we don’t confuse you. I hope that between those who stand close and those who stand far away, you find some balance. That you can see us dots (and a couple of us dashes) turn into curves and shapes. We notes turn to chords. We chords turn to harmony. I hope that you can see the same beauty in us as I have seen in you.

But what am I saying? Of course you can. And you will. You are, after all, so much more than just a painting.

T.H. Ponders

May 7, 2018

A Letter to the Golfe Juan,
One year after the last,
As time goes on.

I know that you’ve seen me. And I know that I’ve seen you. And I know that you know that I’ve seen you and you’ve seen me. You and I both know that last times are usually just until next times. It is, of course, your fault that I pass through this room from time to time. I’ve spent these weeks trying to help others learn how to see the way that you taught me to see. For you taught me so much more than just how to look at you. You taught me how to look, and how to teach others to look. You taught me how to start out in front of a painting, alone, and a little lost, and end up with the assurance that you’ll never truly be alone again.

I feel out of place, writing to you once more. I flip through the last five letters, and they form such a perfect story; a rise, a fall, a gentle repose. But you and I both know that’s not how stories really work. Even after we’ve said our goodbyes, even if we never sit together like we used to, the story will linger on in our memory and on our palettes and in our actions. I’ve changed because of what you taught me. Every action I take in lieu of that change is another echo, another ripple on the pond that carries our story on.

In the last year since I wrote you, I’ve been through highs and lows I never imagined I’d go through. But through it all, I was never truly alone. If ever I needed you, I could put on one those songs that reminds me of you and instantly be transported to the colorful, washed-out, vintage haze of a pathway that leads down to the Golfe Juan.

I’ve only caught you in glimpses, moments, dots and dashes across the past few months. I haven’t taken the time to sit and look like I used to. I ought to, but the finite moments of time get in the way of the infinite ones. But then that’s all a painting is. A finite moment caught between two infinite moments. There is a lot to learn when a finite moment becomes infinite and then goes back to finite again. That transformation is what they call love. We should settle for nothing less, from a painting, from a moment, from a life.

Until next time, Adieu,
T.H. Ponders