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Wednesday, November 14, 2007
  something to wonder about
This is from my friend Jim Mott (of the Itinerant Artist Project.) The painting on the left above is one that Jim did on his recent tour while in Seattle. The painting in the center is by Charles Burchfield, an American painter who died in 1967. The painting on the right is the mirror image of Jim's painting. Jim and his host, Tom, a watercolor painter in Seattle, noticed the similarities between Jim's painting and Burchfield's work, a poster of which Tom has hanging in his studio. (Click on the photo above for a larger view, then use your back arrow to return.) I'll let Jim tell the rest of the story:

At the time, we thought that I'd unconsciously noticed his poster and
been influenced...which was intriguing enough, since the closest
similarities are in the mirror image (shown on right). But things are
even stranger than I'd thought: in comparing notes just now, we realized
that I had not been to his house or studio yet when I did my painting. I
had met him at a waterfront area, and we had gone painting together. He
painted blue, open water and sailboats and showed no interest at all in
my view. Even if he had subliminally clued me in, the shadows that shape
the bright space and so closely match the Burchfield did not appear until
I'd been painting for an hour or two (I have photos to confirm that).

I had and have no conscious awareness of ever seeing that Burchfield
image anywhere before I moved into his studio, and even then I failed to
notice it for a few days. If I had ever seen the image before, it was
years ago. He had never mentioned Burchfield in conversation. During
the course of my residence in his studio, though, I learned that the
Burchfield is his favorite painting.

I agree that the similarities between the Burchfield painting and Jim's in reverse are rather startling, and I guess this is either (a) coincidence or (b) what my friend Marty calls "woo-woo" stuff. By "coincidence" I don't mean something completely random, though there's a large element of happenstance in this explanation--I'm thinking that there are certain compositional arrangements that "work," that artists gravitate towards. When buildings and other structures are involved, it's not too much of a stretch to say that interesting compositions often involve a diagonal stretch of pavement and roof lines, repeated verticals and horizontals, and complicated shadows. So, are you convinced? I'm not sure I am--though I do sound pretty reasonable!

The other explanation, of course (cue "woo-woo,") is that of a psychic connection of some sort between Jim and his host, a fellow artist with a love of Burchfield's work. I am reminded of ESP studies which were conducted in the last century, at least one of which found that subjects under hypnosis did better on tests than those fully conscious (think of the trance-like state that can occur when painting...) Besides the scientific studies there are endless stories of the anecdotal sort, of course, in which people receive information outside of ordinary means of communication. I'm willing to consider both mysterious and rational explanations...it all just leaves me wondering.
 
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