Forty-five people (from Canada, Mexico, Morocco, the United Kingdom, and the United States) participated in exploring Jennifer Packer’s 2017 painting: “April, Restless.” The first observations involved the color yellow, its brightness emanating off our screens. One person said yellow is his favorite color; another liked the “daffodil” color of spring, the way the dominant color echoed the flowers in the upper left corner; another said yellow causes feelings of friction
While keen observers took in objects such as a typewriter, a photograph of the Pietà, a clipboard and scissors, pens or brushes, a table that is there/not there, and the casters under the chair that the central figure occupies, the presence of a person seated (some said “like a monument”) and looking directly at the viewer, prompted the most discussion. Is it a self-portrait? Does it represent a man, woman, elderly, young age? Because we began without revealing the artist, title, or medium, and participants were asked to “bring new eyes” and slow-look, differing perspectives emerged from the encounters between what oil-on-canvas was visible on our screens and what each person brought to the painting (the beholder’s share).
Repeatedly people brought questions of identity: what shading and skin tones, markings on the legs, and the shape of the feet in the foreground could tell us.
There were comments on what appeared to be the sitter’s discomfort. Some participants (especially from professions in healthcare) were aware that they tended to “medicalize” the stillness, the posture, the left eye open and the right closed or drooping, the position of both hands, and considered possible diagnoses or illnesses that the sitter may live with. One person saw a writer turned away from her typewriter and unable to continue working. When the facilitators showed the slide with the title “April, Restless” many felt confirmed that what appeared as stiffness and stillness, perhaps immobility, reflected the sitter’s restless wish to move. Our own experiences of limited mobility and prolonged sheltering-in-place, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, was also present, and we wondered what we projected onto the painting. NM thrives on these moments of intersubjectivity, when we are able to include ourselves in the knowing and unknowing of a text and others’ points of view.
Our prompt was: “Draw or write about restless April.”
In response to the prompt many participants turned to their April, 2020 and wrote about what they see through the window or walking in nature. Poets, reading aloud what they had written in four minutes, echoed the colors in the painting–not only with forsythia’s bright blooms but also with a robin’s breast, recalling the red spots, on the sitter’s chest, which some viewers had seen as blood and others as red buttons.
Participants are warmly encouraged to share what you wrote below (“Leave a Reply”), to keep the conversation going here, bearing in mind that the blog of course is a public space where confidentiality is not assured. If you chose to draw, your are welcome to share as well, simply email your visual file to firstname.lastname@example.org and we will add and credit it to the post here.
Please join us for our next session: Wednesday, April 29th at 12pm EDT, with more times listed on our Live Virtual Group Sessions page.
We look forward to seeing you again soon!