Marcia Rackow, Oysters, 1982, watercolor

      I think Eli Siegel’s question about Depth and Surface, from Is Beauty the Making One of Opposites? describes what I was going after when I painted these oyster shells, and they have been central opposites in my work—and, I’ve learned, in my life! Although I had often eaten oysters and been taken by the pearly interior surfaces, which are so surprising when you first see their rough exteriors, I never saw how beautiful these shells were until I painted them. As I tried to capture something of the depths of those luminous surfaces I was captivated, almost mesmerized by the richness of the layering of the surfaces. The more I looked, the deeper they were—not only those iridescent interiors, but also the craggy, mountainous exteriors. Placing the shells in a bowl I wanted to convey something of the depths and mystery of the ocean from which they came, as though they were rising to the surface through water.

      As I thought about this painting, I saw something new about my preference for opaque watercolors over transparent ones. Opaque watercolors give a flat, even thick, impenetrable surface as well as the translucency of thin layered colors. So the very technique of this medium satisfied my love for surface and also my hope to get to greater depths.

      I had been distressed by the fact that I felt my work was superficial. I liked to paint in flat colors, but I seemed incapable of getting to three dimensions even when I wanted to, and eventually almost gave up painting. I didn’t know at the time that this problem was not just an “art” problem, but arose from how I saw generally. Through studying Aesthetic Realism I have come to see people, including my family, objects, the world around me with greater depth and justice, and am not only less afraid to go beyond the surface, but actually enjoy it. My relations to people have changed profoundly, and there’s been a radical change in my work.

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