Seeing Things (11): Model Drinking Coffee

Paul Wonner's Model Drinking Coffee

This is the eleventh in a series of personal observations about how people experience and explore museums. Take a look at Howard's other blog posts about seeing things.

The model is taking a break in a blue robe, sitting in a chair, having a coffee. Perhaps he just put the robe on after holding a pose. Maybe the painting studio is next door. He's looking at us, but perhaps he's looking at the painter. I'm taken in by the colors, the model's stare, and the shapes: the lovely curves of the wood-bent chairs, and the squares of the window behind the sitter, forming a rectangle. I like the sun and I love the shadows, the creamy whites and blues. The brush strokes stun like perfect sentences. Artist Paul Wonner has let us in on this moment, as if it was the most natural thing, to stumble on a model, having a coffee, taking a break. And what does it mean not to have the painting that was painted in the studio, but this, a break from the "real work" that engages the viewer in a conversation, and an immediate search for narrative?

Like David Park, Paul Wonner was a Bay Area painter who worked happily on the West Coast while the New York School was being shaped by the abstract expressionists. Wonner's style comes out of abstract expressionism—there are lots of passages of pure paint even though he applies them to images in the world. "The artist," he is quoted as saying, "is not painting in order to deliver messages of hope and good will nor of doom but simply because painting is, or should be, above everything else what he likes to do."

Here, as in Girl in Swing, also in the collection of American Art, Wonner brings us the light and color of Northern California on top of narratives that reveal the mysteries of the human experience.

Next up, a look at Elmer Bischoff's Two Bathers.