Sunday, October 11, 2009

"The Little Star Dweller"

So here's what's cool about that painting below. Like most good paintings--most good works in any art form--it manages to pair contradictory elements without contradicting itself or looking like a mess.

The lines, especially the long horizontal curve of her jaw, are bold and clear. They're almost straight lines, with all the simplicity that a straight line conveys, with only a slight curves or dips to soften the effect. The composition is simple--you could draw the outline of her face right now on a piece of paper--but the borders are absent. Look at the outline of her cheek. There is no clear border between the soft white of her skin and the dark brown of her hair, only the blurred colors.

So what could be an almost overpowering composition--one big square face dominating the picture frame--is balanced, you could also say negated, by the gentle lines, the abscence of distinct borders, and a dreamlike, dusky color palette.

Another thing about the composition: even though the child's face fills the frame, we don't feel confronted by it. Why? Because her eyes are closed. Even though she is the sole subject of the painting, she's not there. She doesn't even notice us. She's tucked away in a cocoon of beatific thoughtfulness.

This effectively conveys a child's point of view: she's the center of her own universe. Her own thoughts wink about her and her smile at contemplating them is inward and unconscious.

But we are outside as well, like any parent who's looked at their kid and wondered: what the heck is she thinking about?

"The Little Star Dweller" is not drawn the way a child would draw but in the way a child would perceive herself. So we have another contradiction that shouldn't work: we're both inside this girl's inner world and standing outside and somewhere above her (think about where you would standing based on the angle of the composition).

This is a painting that would be easy to dismiss as merely "cute" or, even worse, as solipsistic art school sarcasm, but for those who stop to consider it with an open mind they'll find themselves lingering over it much than longer than they had intended and not be quite sure why.

The irony of "The Little Star Dweller" is that its humility, its diffidence, its shyness--the traits that would usually cause something to be overlooked--are exactly what make it so compelling.
"The Little Star Dweller" copyright Yoshitomo Nara