"Painting is poetry that is seen rather than felt, and poetry is painting that is felt rather than seen."
--Leonardo da Vinci
One of my dearest friends in my life was a painter named August Mosca. Were he alive today, Gus would be 112 years old. When we met he was a sprightly eighty-two and I was just a breath or two beyond thirty. Historically, there has always been a great affinity between painters and poets--Frank O'Hara's friendship with both Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning come to mind--and Gus and I became fast friends.
I admired that Gus had spent a lifetime at his art and somehow had managed to squeeze out a living being a man who spent as many hours in the day that he could painting and drawing. We spent many happy times together in the little studio shed behind his farmhouse on Long Island talking for hours about the nature of art and creativity, and it nourished each of us at a time when we both needed it.
One day we stood at his window, looking out at the yard behind his house, and he noted the beautiful purples in the trunks and branches of the tree behind his house. He wondered if i could see the colors and I told him I couldn't. To me they looked like trees. Then he set a canvas upon his rickety old easel and began to paint. A day or two later he shared the painting with me. Sure enough, there was purple in the trunks and branches of those trees. After that I never looked at a tree in the same way. Gus hadn't created a new reality but he'd infused the reality he saw with the hues of his own perception, and through his art, I was enriched and enlightened about the physical world and the nature of light in ways that could not have simply been explained with words.
Gus did three portraits of me in the years of our friendship, and when I look at each of them it's somewhat bewildering. In many ways they don't look like me. More critically, they don't look like the "me" I see when I look into a mirror. They do, I am very certain, look like the "me" that August Mosca saw. They look like the person he knew and cared about. Incredibly, when I look at those portraits all these years later, I can feel myself there. What I see is not the figure of a man I once was but rather the essence of myself. It was something about me that Gus could recognize and evoke with paint.
This is what art does for us: it presents a reality that we might never get to see in any other way. Through the vision, the perception, and insight of the artist...