Fairfield Porter (1907-1975)
Interior With Dress Pattern
Oil on canvas
There is one painting of mine where I feel the question of place is happily resolved. It's a picture of a living room in a house my father built on Great Spruce Head Island in Penobscot Bay, Maine. My brothers and sisters built houses for themselves, so I inherited this one. I have painted that room very often, and it's Maine to me. I do not know if its an ugly room or notbut it has a very strong personality.
I do not look for places to paint. A place means a lot to me not because I decided that it did. It just does; I can't help it. The most important thing is the quality of love. Love means paying very close attention to something and you can only pay close attention to something because you can't help doing so.
Of all the books and poems I have read about places, those that meant most to me in this respect have been Russian novels and poems by Pasternak, Paustovsky, Tolstoy. These are recent. I can't remember so well earlier ones - except Beatrix Potter. On the whole, of books and poems in English, it is those by Americans that mean most to me in regard to the evocation of place: Sarah Orne Jewett, Hawthorne. The "places" in English Literature are not nearly so real to me as those in Russian books, or in Hawthorne, or Jane Bowles (Two Serious Ladies) or Elizabeth Bishop. In Jane Bowles' novel, I feel I know exactly where on Staten Island a part of the book takes place. It isn't that she directly describes it, either. It is, as in Russian books, very much the reality of the people for me that makes the place real. A Russian novel, at its best is like one's own life: an English novel is literary. A poem of Pasternak's about a rain storm and his prose descriptions of Siberia make me feel that I was there. Paustovsky and Elizabeth Bishop are directly visual: the writer was there, or is there, and I am helplessly drawn in. It does not follow that there is not other prose and poetry that does not move me just as much, only not in the visual sense, which is what I believe you are asking about.
I think the quality common to the places I would most like to go to but have never visited is that I can imagine in those places the relation between the pace and is human inhabitants so that it would be a place whose strangeness and interest came from my being able to feel that I have already lived there, different as it may be from what I have known.