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Rembrandt and me


I am an abstract painter. Right from the first day, abstraction spoke my language. I never wanted to paint otherwise. For me, it talks to the inexpressible part of being human. Not being attached to objects, it makes sense out of the unknown. Forcing me to be open to what I don’t know. Literally, through the paint itself, it educates me. Teaches me to experience, to be open.

Yet I feel closer to Rembrandt than to Pollack. Don’t get me wrong here: I do love Pollack’s paintings. And de Kooning, Rothko, Kline. There are many abstract artists whose work inspires me, yet Rembrandt is my heart. I went to his home in Amsterdam once, felt his presence, his intensity, a stillness. The light in the house was just like in his paintings. It felt as if his work was carved out of the very air in the rooms. I felt so reverent, I didn’t even take a photograph. But I do have the memory of being there. And I think about that house often.

That quality, of being created from an inner environment beyond thought, transforming and illuminating is my search as well. Remember that haunting, old saying: “There is nothing new under the sun.” If so, it just may be the way the same “old” thing is put together. Rembrandt put it together in a way that tells a very contemporary story.

The above painting was the first oil painting I did before going to art school. I can see here the influences of Rembrandt’s brushwork, his use of light and colors. I was using what I had at the time, a black and white photograph. This heightened the contrast, drama. When I was in high school, I would visit his paintings in the National Gallery in Washington. I identified with the Girl with the Broom. We had a Dutch door in our house, where the door was split in the middle, opened in two sections. The girl with the broom was me: leaning on the lower part of our door, brooding as she held onto her broom, looking directly out at the passing scene before her, thinking, longing, imagining.

I have since read that this painting was done by an apprentice of Rembrandt’s, possibly Carel Fabritius. Rembrandt approved by putting his signature to it. Does that make it less truthful, less powerful to me? I’d have to see the original painting again to answer that. Reproductions are not the same. But I would hope not. A good painting is good. Truth and beauty come in many forms.

Still, I’m not sure how this affects my work. Probably there are many ways to tell your personal truth. Mine is in non-referential, abstract painting. If I were to meet Rembrandt today, would we talk about abstract painting? Would his work be non-representational? Tell me, Rembrandt.


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