I have a sense of a sunrise in Nagasaki when I was 17. Is the dreamy
quality of my memory due to the fact that I was at a Japanese youth camp
there, and we woke up every morning to Edvard Grieg’s lilting ‘Morning
Mood’ theme from Peer Gynt to do calisthenics? Was this school trip
actually in Nagasaki, or did the trip to Nagasaki happen with the family
that I was living with in Japan, and the destination of the class trip was
The Beppu Onsen, also in Kyushu, where I was living?
Even the vaguest of our recollections, a sunrise or a feeling of warmth on
our faces, are bound up with our beings in holistic ways. It was summer,
the climate was tropical, and my school uniform itched.
As the philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty writes in his ‘Phenomenology
‘True refltection presents me to myself not as idle and inaccessible
subjectivity, but as identical with my presence in the world and to others,
as I am now realizing it: I am all that I see, I am an intersubjective field,
not despite my body and historical situation, but on the contrary, by being
this body and this situation, and through them, all the rest.’
I imagine a gray day on The Hudson River out the window of my father’s
lab on 168th Street.
Is a cadmium yellow light that I recall actually the polution-tinted sun of
the 1970’s over the Hudson River when driving with my parents on the
Westside Drive? Or is it some other moment of saturated light and speed?
Or was my memory tinted by the fondness for the cadmium orange and yelllow
palette of 70’s films?
I see the sun on The East River every day, but I can’t stick a pin in a moment
of light and color.
The sun struggling to find its way out of a gray sky over Antwerp reminds me
of the often foggy Deer Isle Maine sky, because it’s at dark and hazy
atmospheres like these that, if I had no sense of time, I might think that
the sun was the moon.
Many of these paintings refer to childhood as well as places outside of NY.
Looking up is something we don’t do much of in adult life in NY. We look
forward to avoid preditors and the sky is just a place where things aren’t.
Which is why so many painters love to paint it.
I like to think of the modernist painter Frantisek Kupka looking at the sun
glinting off the rim of a glass and thinking, ‘screw all the allegory, I’m just
going to paint that,’ even though by the time he thought that, the glint was
gone. Kupka describes the condition of letting go of specificity very well.
‘Once you realize that it is impossible to capture the character of various
manifestations of nature by pictorial means, and that an interpretation
based on imagination is equally erroneous, you will not find yourself facing
a gaping void as you might have feared.’
These paintings are based on things that I cannot remember. But
perhaps in some fragile way I can recall them.
Marcel Proust writes,
‘The places we have known do not belong solely to the world of space in which
we situate them for our greater convenience. They were only a thin slice among
contiguous impressions which formed our life at that time; the memory of a
certain image is but regret for a certain moment; and houses, roads, avenues are
as fleeting, alas, as the years.’
Many readers have wondered how much Proust in life is the Marcel in his book.
Which is to miss the point. We all exist within a state of meta memory. We
create temporary narratives to explain ourselves to ourselves and sometimes to
others. Then these narratives are disrupted by fact or further specualation,
and we re-tool them.
I now think that there was a third trip from Kuruma, where I was living in Kyushu.
I was singing with the high school choir. I didn’t know what I was singing; it was
in Japanese. When I asked a friend what it meant he replied, ‘not much,’ which
I thought was funny. We went to a youth camp, so maybe it was at a
prefecture choir competition where they played the Peer Gynt music during our
early morning calisthenics.
I have to believe, however that at some place, some time in the summer,
somewhere in Kyushu, when I was 17, a bunch of us were looking at a
beautiful sunrise and having completely different experieces that we
probably don’t remember. I have faith in at least that.
These paintings aren’t images, they are afterimages. Afterimages are
phenomina imprinted on our retinas when we close our eyes after seeing
Matthew Weinstein, 2024