In “Still Life with Oysters and Lemon”, a small 17th century Dutch painting by Jan Davidsz de Heem is the catalyst for Mark Doty’s illuminating meditation on intimacy. His layered contemplation of the still life’s ordinary subject — food and utensils — yields an astonishing complexity of emotion and meaning. Doty is imbued like a euphoric lover with the painting’s warm light after leaving its presence. His senses are heightened. He sees the world anew through its amber lens. He asks, “Why should we have been born knowing how to love the world? We require, again and again, these demonstrations.” Both the painting and the book provide that lesson. He shows how the artist’s act of description is an act of love for the material world, available for the viewer to reciprocate. Doty responds. He explores the painting’s surface, textures, materials and colors with lush specificity. He indulges the reader through his words in the sensual pleasure of gazing upon the artist’s object. Doty reveals the painting to be a repository of the artist’s feeling, experience, memory and time, as is his own work of writing. By describing with patient nuance a sequence of objects in his life, he draws out the intimate relationships bound to them in this moving memoir of his partner’s death.
ABOVE: Teapot and Lemon with Bananas, oil on paper, image 6.5 x 8.25 in, (16.5 x 21 cm), 02/07/2009