Dark On Grey


It’s something that I have been aware of my whole life but never really noticed until I moved and away from Chicago and then came back again for a visit: just how grey it is possible for a place to be.

As an artist I tend to break images down into lights and darks and shapes and spaces. One of the thing that has always bothered me about both still art and motion pictures is that darks can never be as dark as real life and lights can never be as light. I could never draw you a picture of the painfully searing brightness of a sun lit and snow covered parking lot as seen through dilated eyes (see Wide Eyes) because on a drawing there is only reflected light, not radiating light. Likewise there is no true darkness in the movie theater because even the darkest shadows are the result of a high wattage projector on a luminous screen.

In some ways this inability to replicate true light and true darkness is important to art of all kinds at a very basic level because it forces us to interpret artwork through the meaningfulness of our own experiences. This is good for artwork but problematic in reality when the lightest light is no brighter than a sheet of paper and the darkest dark no darker than a projection screen. But this is the state of reality of Chicago in March and the people who can withstand this kind of abbreviated range of experience is a rare and hearty breed indeed.

Intelligensia, a coffee roasting company based in Chicago described the city as “brooding, practical, and reluctantly beautiful” which I thought was remarkably apt. When I quoted in this to my Dad, though, he disagreed: “I don’t really think of Chicago as brooding.” he said. Brooding did seem to be a bit darker in tone than a city that delights in putting food on sticks ought to warrant but was the closest word I could think of for a place where one’s good mental health is proportional to how well one can simply do without light, color, and variety for three to five months of the year. Living in Chicago is like living inside a painting. This sounds wonderful until you realize that not all paintings are lovely in the same way that not all dreams are pleasant.

To love Chicago is not to love something bright and beautiful. Understanding the beauty of a city like Chicago means interpreting the ordinary through the meaningfulness of our own experience and that is an exercise in reflection-if not in Brooding.

So for all the sunlight that I miss from California, I am actually enjoying this gloom and grey for forcing me to find beauty in meaning instead of meaning in beauty.

~ by Gwydhar Gebien on March 6, 2013.

One Response to “Dark On Grey”

  1. […] you follow my blog you probably saw this in action: On March 6th I wrote “Dark on Grey” about my observations about being back in Chicago. I wrote it while I was on the bus heading […]

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