Black-Canvas in a Two-Story House

The black stretched canvases were abandoned in the halls of the museum for months. Once the backdrop for Sumatran textiles, these canvases now housed only a few of the trace black and red threads that held the ceremonial dress clothes of the Minangkabau people. In their original usage the canvases had been invisible. Their identities in the exhibition were completely dependent upon the garments that were sewn into the canvas, and now they were displaced to the back hallways of the museum where I was a photographer. I watched these canvases every week-morning as I left the studio.

I was busy photographing silk embroideries from Suzhou, China, in their beautiful understated treatment of imagery. Somehow the fewer threads necessary to define an image the more interested I became in the image. There was one embroidery of two dark trees in the snow, in which only the trees and the sloping hillside horizon defined the image. Most of the silk was left untouched by threads, yet the image was there moving between abstraction and representation. 

The canvases and scattered threads, now detached from past exhibitions, now amounted to museum clutter. The museum was about to throw them away when I claimed them for my own. The black canvases except for two joined my previous paintings in a Culver City storage facility. The other two sat at home scouting out a purpose. The canvases followed me along to a house in Orange County where they found a cozy spot under the stairs.

Living in a new master planned community, I took many walks after returning from work, which was now working as a multi-media web designer. My walks happened from dusk into evening. I was fascinated by the model homes that surrounded me. At night every light in the model-houses were left on. The curtains were all drawn open and one could see all the way through the house to the darkness beyond the windows on the other side. The house blended with the darkness behind, and became transparent. I found I could lose perspective as to what was solid or transparent.

The houses in which people already lived were different. None of lighted windows revealed anything except for the glow of light through drapery or blinds. At night people’s windows became solid rectangles of light, while the rest of the house disappeared in the night. Even the sky had a glow that the house didn’t. The sky and the windows became solid forms defining the area around darker space. The dark space both appears full of depth and flat simultaneously. The idea of space changes at night. Something that is dark doesn’t appear to be there. The black canvases were originally used behind the ceremonial clothes so people would not notice them. The canvases were not there. Were the houses there? Would the houses disappear when the lights turned off, or did they disappear when the lights turned on? The lights provide a distraction from the details of the dark.

The fewer details I noticed the more I was interested. I remembered the embroidery of the trees, and I thought of the black canvases and the remaining threads. The black canvases became the location of my perception of the houses. At night when the lights are on and the shades are closed, the light becomes solid and the dark disappears. The black canvas is not there. It never was except when the canvases were clutter in the museum halls, stored in the in the storage unit, or underneath the stairs. The houses are not really there either and the painting only exists in limited space, like the threads becoming trees on a hillside of silk.