Lovers in Santa Croce

an Essay by Stephen Bates

Lovers in Santa Croce

In Matthew Bates' painting "Lovers in Santa Croce", the painter is presenting us simultaneously with the familiar and the unique . Painters poets and philosophers will encounter a trash container on their daily walk and see a revelation. Most of us say "trash can" and move on to take in the lovers or the array of buildings, wondering who owns them. In this painting, Bates is giving all of us the power to see through the poet's eye the myriad forms in our world. The trash can of everyday life is a lucky opportunity if we are carrying a bag to dispose of. In his

painting, however, it becomes an important form and a strong contributor to the composition. A casual walk around the block does not often give us such an impression. This is partly because our walk does not frequently frame a scene as a painting does.
The Greeks had several words for time, among them, chronos for time passing and kairos for a moment in time. In Bates' painting we imagine the chronos of a moment before the lovers kiss and the moment after. However, the split second moment itself gives us the sensation of kairos, a moment spread out to allow us to inspect it endlessly. Of course we are used to this kind of examination from photography, the frozen moment. But in Matthew Bates' painting the rendering in oil with development beyond the report of the camera, we are invited into a world of form and detail than expands the moment further than photography.
Photography is so pervasive in our experience, that we conflate it with real vision. Thus we see a photograph and we often give it enormous authority as an account of reality. We feel that nothing has been left out by the camera. This is only because we are accustomed to observing things up to a point, and then we become exhausted or bored and stop. Even at that point we subconsciously know that the photograph still contains more stuff. How often do we observe a tree and really take in all the branches. Photography, whether in the hands of the artist or merely the daily newspaper plays a kingly role in our lives. Magic realism, the style in which Bates works, expands the information provided by photography and through the medium of oil paint invites the viewer into the kairos moment.












Here, as with a can opener prying open a split second, the artist explores the story of the human characters and their environment. An ordinary afternoon near the great piazza in Florence, a couple embracing on a stone bench, a woman nearby looking away, does she know who they are there? We see the human drama, but another drama is about to open to us. The normally dark alley becomes a rich brocade of lively colors, and the parade of cars telling the story of the triumph of their acquired parking places. As the eye is drawn back into the long street, the last car, a white roofed van leads us upward to the lightest colored rectangular shape toward the freeing patch of blue sky above. A lot of the painting is planned, one is sure to think, but also some happy accidents that support the composition emerge. This happens, I think, because the enormous attention to detail gives us lots of material to examine and compare and compound. The combination of the framing of the scene and the emanation of detail projected by the oil medium, draws us into the scene. Given the infinite time to study the picture, we then begin to explore for ourselves the pleasure of noticing form.
For example, a series of verticals moves from the front right of the painting all the way to the rear in different shapes of doorways eventually leading to subtle simple vertical lines at the end. In real life or with photographic rendering, it would be hard to see all this. Nonetheless, we believe this "fiction" to be real. Hence the term Magic Realism. The vertical lines are accompanied by horizontal ones towards the back and parallel lines coming

-------------Original Photo -------------------------- Painting Detail-----------


towards us on top of the last van .This play of lines is then mirrored by the vertical posts of the railing of the balcony. Then you have subtle verticals on the rim of the bench and parallels right before us on the pavement. Whence all this harmony? Some of it must be planned, or brought out by the artist. However, another possibility is that the kairos of the moment, given to us by the painting, starts us looking in ways we think not possible in the chronos of the moment. More and more discoveries are possible. All these parallel lines culminate in the checkerboard of the woman's vest,a blend of lines crossing each other. It turns out that the checkerboard is at an angle. This harmonizes with all the angles of the open shutters. A slanted narrow rectangle of light is seen below the balcony of the near building. This is the result of a space between the gutter and the building itself. Note how it corresponds to the slant of the open shutter just above. The shutters themselves have horizontals lines. There are three arrows on little signs. On the trash can at the right there are two "v's" going downward like arrows. The eye of the painter walking by sees this. And his seeing this prompts him to portray for us his perception of reality, his vision of beauty and order.

©2005, Stephen Bates, All Rights Reserved



Visit MBFC Galleries: Flowers - Still Life - Cityscapes - Landscapes - Statues - Email