Color duet – painting with Kaffe Fassett

Kaffe taught me to seek beauty, and to find it in color.

The beauty of a weird beige plastic card table against an array of singing red bowls in my mother’s house.

The hallucinatory pink wall in a sea of white on a walk through winter in Vermont

Before I was ever a painter he took me by the hand and introduced me to the neutral wonderland of Giorgio Morandi, and the joy of being in a relationship with the same objects for over 50 years.

When we were little and there was no babysitter he took us for long walks and told us stories, and we lay on the tall grass on the side of the road and listened, enthralled.

When we were older he sent us postcards from his travels – men on horseback wearing shoes with toes that curled, rows of colorful spices in a marketplace. His images in word and picture captivated my imagination.

And he introduced me to his favorite painters, Odilon Redon, Matisse, Sean Scully, and taught me that some of my greatest teachers might be found in books.

When we began to paint together, it was always color that inspired his arrangements. I sat nearby and painted my version sometimes literally at his elbow. In painting with Kaffe, I have learned to see color in greater depth, to seek its range of luminosity, the importance of capturing the subtle differences between hues.

It is almost as though he can hear the colors singing, and in painting what he sees he is keying the pitch. Can you hear it? Can you see it?

For years we have stolen a week out of our lives for this. Hours of looking and sitting and painting and standing back, looking again and again at the same objects in new arrangements. Trying again, seeing again. Because it is in this pursuit of beauty, the beauty of one color singing against another, that we both find meaning.

Last week someone asked us, don’t you get bored painting the same things again and again?

Never, was Kaffe’s reply.

And I was thinking, after ten years I feel I am just getting to know them. They have become old friends. My mother’s collection of vases in sherbet hues, the happy patterned bowls, the yellow and white striped vase.

Last year we made backdrops from textiles, jazzing up the pattern game.

This year we stripped it all back to the simplicity of the plastic card table and the white wall. The restraint made all the colors hum at an even greater pitch.

It is a wonderful game, seeking, seeing, and that moment when you get it right, and the intense satisfaction of the pursuit.